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:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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Sunday, April 9, 2006
10:23 - Such was his legacy, and perhaps it would not have displeased him

Egads. The question here is whether to make Nick Park jokes, or General Woundwort jokes...

Via George.

10:18 - Money well spent

Here's how this was described to me:

"Man gets G5 to replace G4. Blows up G4. As you do."


Saturday, April 8, 2006
03:28 - I cringe

Oh, so now Cringely thinks it's time to put OS X on beige boxes?

The bulk of this article—via James Sentman—is about Vista and Dell and Microsoft's current travails, but his insights about Boot Camp leave me pondering what was in his breakfast muffin. First of all:

Boot Camp, itself, is unexciting. So you can boot into Windows or OS X, big deal. You can't boot into Windows AND OS X. You can't cut and paste data between the two OS's or even access the same data, as far as I can see. For this you'd need Virtual PC - a Microsoft product - if only a version existed for the IntelMac platform.

Uh... yeah, if only. Good thing we don't need Microsoft for this.

Now, he's right when he says this:

Boot Camp makes no revenue for Apple and never will. IT IS BETA SOFTWARE. I doubt that its existence, especially as a beta product, is going to make some Fortune 500 company suddenly sanction the purchase of Macs because they can, with some effort and an extra $100, pretend to be Windows machines. While Boot Camp might help show prospective purchasers the superiority of Apple hardware, those purchasers would have to buy their Macs first and then convince themselves that they had done the right thing, which is totally backwards.

...Which means that the scenario of Apple preloading Windows on its Macs so as to go after business customers is probably pretty far-fetched. But that helps undermine his point that Boot Camp is a gold mine for Microsoft; as it is, Boot Camp users are Mac buyers who already have a copy of Windows lying around. Sure, "product activation" might prevent people from installing it on two different computers, but Boot Camp's primary audience is using it to consolidate their computers down to one box. And even if people do want to buy legit copies of Windows to keep on multiple machines (including their Macs), Cringely might be overstating Mac users' significance to the Windows market by thinking that Microsoft will be giddy at the thought of all those additional units of sales.

Cringely speculates on the nature of Apple's and Microsoft's relationship being peachy-keen at the moment, and I doubt he's too far off—except that Microsoft doesn't yet appear to have committed to an Intel-native version of VirtualPC. And, as mentioned before, they probably won't have to. Same deal with how they've ditched development on Mac IE and Mac Windows Media Player—they've conceded that others can produce the same solutions or better, for free, and Microsoft doesn't have to lift a finger. Why should they? It's not like they get anything out of the deal.

So in general the article is more or less accurate, if speculative and difficult to disprove (as is all the best weasely tech writing by columnists who get paid by the "You heard it here first, folks"). But then he concludes with this:

I predict that Apple will settle on 64-bit Intel processors ASAP (with FireWire 800 please), and at that time will announce a product similar to Boot Camp to allow OS X to run on bog-standard 32-bit PC hardware, turning the Boot Camp relationship on its head and trying to sell $99 copies of OS X to 100 million or so Windows owners.

That's the point when, as Koppy used to write, the game turns.

Yeah. That's also the point where Cringely loses the plot.

Like Ulanoff, he seems to completely miss the point of Apple's Intel switch. It is not so they can just "be more like the PC world". It is not so they can become a hardware integrator bundling Windows. And it is not so they can start licensing OS X after twenty-some years of refusing to do so, in the face of ridicule from stem to stern over this "fundamental mistake" made back in the early days, without which Apple could have dominated the world.

Look again at the tiny little investment in technology that Boot Camp represents: probably no more than a few weeks worth of work, gathering drivers, tweaking a bootloader, repackaging a non-destructive disk partitioner they've probably had sitting around for ages. I wouldn't be surprised if it were the pet project of some rogue engineer who slapped it together during IntelMac development, just because he could—and when he (naturally) followed along with the OnMac.com people's efforts, he would have gone to his superiors when they succeeded and proposed productizing his own Windows-on-Mac solution. Apple, true to form, wanting always to have total control of the widget when possible, would have thought briefly about the ramifications and potential pitfalls and then said yes. Voilá.

Compare that with the technical efforts that would be needed for Apple to refit OS X for generic x86 hardware. All those drivers? All that compatibility testing? That wouldn't be some afterthought by a guy in a lab; it would involve buying a new campus or two.

Not to mention the business ramifications. True, selling software makes for great margins; but Apple's business has always been in selling Macs. There's a reason why their margins are at 30% while Dell's have always been around 9%, and it has to do with Macs' generally higher price, not with OS X being sold at the disproportionately high margin usually associated with software. They don't price their Macs by including a $129 copy of OS X as a separate line-item on the feature list—it's always rolled in and presumed, not some cash-cow value-add. Thus a captive market for both new sales and upgrades is created. Besides, OS X's price reflects the relative simplicity of developing it compared to Windows'; if Apple were to try to build in driver support for the universe of generic PC hardware, they'd never be able to sell OS X at its accustomed $129 price point, let alone the $99 that Cringely suggests—or if they did, it would be the software they're selling at a loss, not the hardware. But hey, they'd make it up in volume, right?

As has been pointed out so many times it makes me weary to repeat it, if Apple were to sell OS X for PCs, nobody would buy Macs anymore, Ulanoff's beloved "breathtaking industrial design" or not. Lots of PC-based pundits insist that Apple ought to sell OS X for generic PCs; but to me that just betrays their own desire to try this wondrous OS that everyone's always talking about without having to buy a Mac. And that right there would kill Apple's business.

Everybody seems to be overlooking one simple fact about Apple: They don't need to dominate the computer world to be a success for their stockholders. They're profitable right now—very much so—and paying investors out the wazoo. The Apple brand is riding higher than it has since the 80s—perhaps more so than it's ever been before. Kids these days don't sneer and scoff at Macs, they sneer and scoff at Windows, while they wander through the Apple Store in the mall and bob their white-earbudded heads. Apple doesn't need to make any compromises to its business in order to get ovations at shareholder meetings these days. We aren't hearing the name "Apple" prefixed with words like "embattled" or "struggling" anymore. Now the world's beating a path to Apple's door, and they're the ones who get to decide the terms on which the game will be played from now on. If someone suggested to Steve Jobs that he should take this opportunity to sell OS X for generic PCs, he'd throw his head back and laugh—and then ask, quite seriously, Why?

UPDATE: J Greely points out that the non-destructive disk partitioning functionality is already in Mac OS X (as of 10.4.6). Boot Camp just repackages an existing CLI function.

UPDATE: John Gruber explains all this in much greater detail.

Friday, April 7, 2006
14:05 - I do not think it means what you think it means

The trailers for this are describing it as—ahem—"a deliciously politically-incorrect satire". Or words to that effect.

'Scuse me? What on earth is politically incorrect about whaling on tobacco lobbyists?

Making an anti-smoking movie is just about the most politically correct thing you can do in this day and age. What with all those obnoxious "Truth" ads all over TV, which get away with purveying their message even when it's sloppy and illogical, and with every show from The Simpsons to Family Guy checking in with their righteous anti-smoking crusade episodes, where the hell is the risk in picking on the tobacco industry?

The last time I was in Europe, everyone smoked like chimneys. My group's tour guide at the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg constantly gesticulated with a lit cigarette; as I walked past, she was waving her hand around to show some building to some other tourists, and her cigarette hit my hand and burned it. Just imagine a tour guide smoking while on the job in America. Can you? Here at home, there's nary a positive portrayal of cigarettes left on TV, let alone advertisements. Billboards, for all they're maligned for, are abstract and surrealist and sure as hell don't convey any particular message to me about smoking being cool. The few people at my company who smoke have to slink out to the back door several times a day, and endure the contemptuous glares of people walking past to and from the building. I don't think I know more than one or two people who smoke, and those who do do so furtively, in shame, alone out on the porch. Boy, nothing says "cool" like having to shiver outside the sliding doors while all your friends talk and laugh inside in front of the TV.

This is Hollywood's new "bravery", then: picking on people that everyone already hates.

And in order to sell it, as though they need to win any more hearts and minds, they co-opt terms like "politically incorrect"—which were coined to describe points of view that differ from the prevailing self-censorship rules that infest our entertainment and social discourse—and pretend that it applies to the party line. They know that "political correctness" has negative connotations, slavishly though people follow its dictates, so they solve that little problem by pretending that what they're doing is really political incorrectness. Which everyone loves because it's "subversive".

For the record, this is what would be "politically incorrect". Though I'm sure the makers of Thank You For Smoking would beg to differ. Hey, then they'd be subversive.

UPDATE: Several have e-mailed to point out that the book on which this movie is based is not an anti-smoking tract, but quite the opposite—a pro-individualism/do-what-you-want message from Chris Buckley, son of William F.

Well, the trailers sure are misleading, then. But maybe that's just so they can be really subversive...

Thursday, April 6, 2006
14:31 - We are the Bore; resistance is compulsory

Wow. Even while my IM windows are abuzz with the idea that Boot Camp signifies a stroke of genius for Apple—a slippery slope for people seeking to wean themselves off Windows and move to Macs (I swear, I've never heard so many people at once say "I'm definitely getting a MacBook Pro now")—Lance Ulanoff at PC Magazine has an entirely different take:

Today Apple sanctioned a dual-boot Mac/Windows OS Mac, and gives end users the tools to create such a set up. Is this the beginning of the end of Apple? Perhaps, but as all this unfolds, I feel a little bit like Apple's being consumed, via its own choice, by the Borg.

. . .

With today's Bootcamp announcement, we have Apple giving in to an obvious demand. But company reps also made it dead-clear that while they've built this utility and made it super-simple to use, Apple has no interest in selling or supporting Windows. Right. They do not want Mac Mini users calling them up saying, "Windows isn't running very smoothly on my Mac Mini." That's understandable. Why should Apple's support techs get tied up in a Windows mess?

So Apple is simply acting as an enabler, stopping end users from jury-rigging a dual-boot system. But they're not selling Windows. Until, well, they are. As the Borg were fond of saying, resistance is futile and, in truth, I think Apple has little interest in resisting. Two years from now, end users will probably have the option of buying OSX Macs or Windows Macs.

Jaw-dropping. Here in a world where everybody's sick of Windows and wants to move to a Mac, Ulanoff thinks that Boot Camp is just a move by Apple toward making Windows boxes.

Screw all that investment in OS X and Mac-only software. Bosh to EFI when they could have just used BIOS like everybody else. Fie upon Apple's growing market share, astronomical profits, giddy stock price, and image as the hot rising computer company while Windows is seen as the boring operating system used by one's parents. Never mind all that money on the table as evidenced by people's explicit desire to buy Macs for OS X but keep Windows around as an umbilical cord—Boot Camp is the beginning of the end for Apple.

I guess we can derive some meaning from the fact that his observations are just about dead opposite my own, given the same input data:

Apple told us that they think Bootcamp will help make the Mac more appealing to those thinking about switching platforms and that it will provide –especially when it becomes part of the Leopard OSX upgrade later this year or next— a safety net for people who switch but still want their Windows and Windows apps. There's already considerable proof that dual-booting can work (we proved it here in our labs), and I have every expectation that this utility will work as promised. Actually, does any one else find it odd that Apple rolled out such a utility so quickly? This obviously shows some forethought and planning. The Borg were known to plan too.

No, it's not odd that they rolled this out so quickly. What would be odd is if they'd included a finished version of Boot Camp with the first line of Intel Macs right out of the gate, anticipating the demand for dual-boot machines. Or if they'd responded to the Windows-on-Mac hackers' successes by releasing firmware updates that prevented Windows from running on Macs. No, it's not odd that weeks after dual-booting was big in the news, Apple has come out with a public beta of a toolkit that comprises a) a simple disk partitioner, b) a firmware update with a new bootloader, and c) a burnable CD full of drivers they collected. That isn't all that much magic, all things considered. And it doesn't take years of shadow parallel development, like Marklar, to do it.

If Apple wanted to move to Windows, they could have done so at any time by simply dropping their proprietary hardware and making Wintel boxes like everyone else does. This isn't rocket science. They could be an integrator like any number of other companies, at the drop of a hat. Why on earth would they have gone to all the trouble to move OS X to Intel if they planned to drop it? Why would they be continuing to make investments in technologies like EFI that Windows doesn't plan to support? How does the—and let's be honest here—minimal investment in development that's represented by Boot Camp signal that Apple is getting ready to shift its entire business model to making Wintel PCs in Mac-like boxes?

If Ulanoff would take a step or two up onto the curb and stop huffing the exhaust fumes from all the tech pundits who are jostling for the chance to say "You heard it here first," no matter how kooky the theory of the day, he'd realize that Apple's computer business model—after the Intel switch—is identical to what it's always been. The fact that they've gone to Intel CPUs doesn't mean their computers are any less Mac-like. If anything, they're renewing their commitment to being different, by throwing in with EFI, which is what makes the whole Boot Camp rigmarole necessary in the first place. If Apple wanted to become a Windows shop, there are far more direct ways to do it. Rather, they're shifting to a different CPU supplier, one that just happens to be Windows-compatible. And if it's a choice for Apple between watching thousands of geeks tinker and hack their way to dual-boot Macs so they can play Half-Life 2, and supporting dual-booting in an official capacity so they can explicitly market Macs as being more versatile than Windows machines, the choice is a no-brainer. But that does not mean there is even the first signal from Apple that it intends to chuck its whole thirty-year legacy of demonstrably superior software and a complete whole-widget integrated hardware/software experience out the window just to be one more player in the crowded and stifling Wintel PC market.

Ulanoff is right in thinking that this move will sell more Macs. But it's not because people love Mac hardware but prefer Windows. It's because they want OS X, but they want to bring Windows with them for as long as it'll take them to find a total replacement for everything they use it for. But they'll be spending their time in OS X. That's why they want the Macs in the first place—not the "breathtaking industrial design"—and Ulanoff can't seem to grasp that.

Maybe he should do a poll of Windows-based pundits who think Apple should license OS X for generic PC hardware, and then ask himself what Apple stands to gain from embracing Windows instead. Aside from more inane comments about the "Borg".

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, he can't bring himself to spell "Boot Camp" or "OS X" or any other related term correctly—the true mark of someone who prides himself on his ability to subconsciously rile up the faithful with offhand little maddening details, but which ends up just making him look like an unhip, uninformed fool. I'll bet he spells it "I-Pod", too.

UPDATE: John Gruber's take, naturally, is a whole lot more sensible and demonstrably true. Don't miss it.

The fear that Windows-on-Mac-hardware implies the eventual death or marginalization of Mac OS X is baseless. Sure, third party developers could start using “Just boot into Windows” as their answer to questions regarding Mac support, but this is no more likely to be popular or successful than it was for developers whose OS X strategy was “Just use Classic”.

This is a move of supreme confidence — Apple relishes the comparison between Mac OS X and Windows XP, and Microsoft has shown enough of Vista via its widely-available beta seeds that Apple quite obviously isn’t afraid of that comparison, either.

"Windows is the new Classic." Yeah, I was saying that to people in e-mail before Gruber even posted this. You heard it here first, folks! Heh heh... sheesh.

UPDATE: In keeping with the "Windows is Classic" theme (which, as Gruber points out, would seem to suggest an eventual role for Windows as a fully interleaved, virtualized alternative application mode that works in the same way Classic does—individual layered windows, just no drop-shadows), I wouldn't entirely be surprised if Apple were to sell Windows, or even preload it for business customers, if they should ever decide to really get serious about courting them. But that's really not what Ulanoff is proposing, though the longer one thinks about this the more blurry the line gets.

His choice of words betrays his real hopes and/or fears: Two years from now, end users will probably have the option of buying OSX Macs or Windows Macs. See, he's not envisioning a future with Windows as a ghettoized unsupported alternative to OS X that Apple has made accessible as a generous courtesy; he's envisioning Macs as being something Apple will eventually decide to sell as only Mac OS X machines or only Windows machines, or (as a value-add) both. What's more, he undoubtedly believes that once Apple's sales numbers indicate (as they eventually would) that more customers seem to want Windows than Mac OS X, Apple would make the "sensible" business decision and shelve OS X entirely, making the switch to the Windows PC business that he so relishes imagining. That one little or in his wording speaks volumes.

12:01 - Gamers rejoice

Cabel Sasser (of Panic fame) tries out Boot Camp and answers the question, "How well does Half Life 2 run on an Intel iMac?"

His answer: "Shockingly well."

He's got video to prove it. It looks like the solution for Mac fans who enjoy modern games has indeed arrived.

If I haven't pointed out Cabel's site already, by the way, check it out for the site design alone. It's everything you'd expect from the Panic guys, just dripping with style. And the links to images use an inline display effect that's just amazing. But it depends on stuff like alpha blending and intensive CSS, so don't bother looking at it in IE.

09:44 - SP to FG: You Got Served

While it's certainly gratifying that South Park is tackling the Cartoon Wars issue head-on (and not folding it in with the Chef episode, though they easily could have, since they deal with similar issues of censorship out of fear of religious fundamentalists), I think I was even more happy to see them lay the smack down on Family Guy.

It's a tricky situation, when you're one example of a form of entertainment and you criticize another member of the same genre; you know you're just opening yourself up to retaliation in kind (though that might be plenty fun to watch and kick up the ratings for both shows), but more importantly you know you're alienating people who might happen to be fans of both. It takes a lot of guts to write an episode that criticizes the writing of a peer show. It takes a lot of self-confidence, a lot of arrogance—and by God, you'd better have the goods to deliver. Nothing's sadder than seeing a mediocre show bash a better one. (Which, I might note, Family Guy has done more than once.)

That said, I can't guess how Family Guy will mount its retaliatory effort. It's just not its style. There's no equivalent in its humor of the kind of self-confidence that would depict their specific writing style getting critiqued by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Indeed, the very discontinuousness of the writing that's at the heart of Trey and Matt's criticism is what will prevent Family Guy from retaliating in kind without looking like a completely different show.

I'm pretty sure that "Part Two" of this "two-parter" doesn't exist, at least as presented in the "preview clips". But it would really be something if it did—and I'm really hoping it does after all—because this week's episode, despite its subject matter, didn't show the Muhammad cartoons. There was nothing controversial about it, really. Which leads me to believe that they must really have something up their sleeve this time.

They're going to crack this issue wide open and claim the controversy all for themselves—and dance all over Seth McFarlane's face at the same time. Trey and Matt have huge aspirations, far more than and far different from what any comparable show has... and at this stage they've got the tools to really realize them.

I'm surprised that the blogosphere isn't all over this already, though. At least one person is (via VodkaPundit).

UPDATE: Cartoon Brew has a similar opinion of Family Guy and last night's skewering of it—and links to a "perennial blog post" on the subject that links back to me! What a small world.

And the next post there links to this, which might be worth following.

Though I wonder how this fits into the puzzle.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006
09:48 - We meant to do this all along

Good thing they didn't announce this on April 1st. Via a whole bunch of people:

More and more people are buying and loving Macs. To make this choice simply irresistible, Apple will include technology in the next major release of Mac OS X, Leopard, that lets you install and run the Windows XP operating system on your Mac. Called Boot Camp (for now), you can download a public beta today.

Ye gods!

The timing of this (and its status as a beta) suggests that this isn't something Apple had counted on doing—but presumably they also hadn't counted on there being such a vigorous grass-roots push toward getting Windows running on Macs as to support a $12,000 bounty. (I also don't think they counted on the Intel Macs being so good, competitively with other PC platforms, that they might actually be able to make a business case upon selling their Macs as potential Windows machines, using an officially-supported bootloader.)

This won't have been the first time Apple has made a hardware-hack-based effort to wean people off of Windows by degrees. I remember when they had a whole series of lesser-known variants of machines such as the Power Mac 6100 and Quadra 610 labeled "DOS Compatible"; they included what was essentially a whole 486-based PC on a daughterboard, including its own RAM. Of course you had to pick which system to boot into, so Apple had a multi-OS bootloader back then—a far more comprehensive solution than Boot Camp, though there was a lot more of a technical gulf between the two platforms back then than there is today. You ran Windows on one of these things and you found yourself crippled by the one-button mouse and the shaky support for things like serial ports. My boss only had one because QuickBooks only ran on Windows and he had to use it, but otherwise apparently nobody bought them—they were pains in the butt. But nowadays, Macs are all based on IDE/SATA hard drives, VGA-based video, multi-button mice, and of course Intel CPUs—nothing that will be foreign to a Windows specter inhabiting a modern Mac.

To modern eyes, the Intel Macs represent Macs that have come as close as they can possibly get to the Wintel world without Apple turning into a plain-Jane boutique PC maker like Alienware. Whether intended as such or not, it looks like a sporting concession; and all the right people are reacting in all the right ways. And what with the revelations that Vista will be no bargain to wait for, the only thing preventing a whole lot of people from switching to what has been demonstrated to be at the very least a highly competitive platform with a much better track record of delivering useful products is the psychological aspect of being without the ever-dependable flexibility of Windows. For people who have to be able to run certain Windows apps (read: games), or who just like to have the ability to run whatever interesting little Windows app that comes along, going Mac cold-turkey is just too much to ask.

Just wait'll they start exploring the world of Mac shareware, though.

So this might amount to a very minor technical investment by Apple that, coming at a time when demand is clearly running high for Windows-compatible Macs like never was the case back in the mid-90s, might be just the ticket they need for widespread adoption of the Mac like they'd never previously envisioned. Or at least that there's a whole bunch of money on the table that they can gulp down without pausing for breath.

And I just can't help but like Apple's style:

Boot Camp lets you install Windows XP without moving your Mac data, though you will need to bring your own copy to the table, as Apple Computer does not sell or support Microsoft Windows.(1) Boot Camp will burn a CD of all the required drivers for Windows so you don't have to scrounge around the Internet looking for them.

They know who they're talking to.

Oh, and there's even better digs in the right-hand sidebar:

Macs use an ultra-modern industry standard technology called EFI to handle booting. Sadly, Windows XP, and even the upcoming Vista, are stuck in the 1980s with old-fashioned BIOS. But with Boot Camp, the Mac can operate smoothly in both centuries.

. . .

Word to the Wise
Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it’ll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes.


Check out the FAQ, though. They've clearly thought this out pretty carefully, and even gone to the trouble to make drivers for the Mac-specific keyboard keys under Windows, and a Startup Disk control panel, not to mention support for the ATI graphics in the current Macs (which just might make high-end gaming feasible). Some features aren't supported, but dang—this can't help but make for a nicer experience than on that old 6100.

UPDATE: Hey, this is actually pretty slick: it does graphical, non-destructive disk partitioning to make a bootable Windows volume.

Also I love their Apple-ified Windows logo: it looks like an NFPA fire hazard symbol.

UPDATE: TUAW's Damien Barrett thinks he sees why Apple's doing this:

Imagine a school budget that simply replaces all the computers campus-wide with new Intel Macs that can run anything we throw at them. Need to run Windows? Image the iMac with the WinXP image. Need to run Mac OS X? Image the iMac with the Tiger (or Leopard) image. Need to run either (because it's a dual-purpose classroom)? Install both and teach the lab assistants and instructors how switch between the environments. It might even be scheduled to reboot the classroom between classes so it's transparent to the end-user.

Now imagine that you're a sysadmin and you could tell my boss that you could outfit a classroom or a lab with one model computer that could run either your Mac image or your Windows image, or even both of the images? Suddenly your rooms are dual-use rooms. The AutoCAD kids can simple boot the computer to Windows to turn their software and two hours later, the Graphic Design students can boot the computers to Mac OS X to run their design applications!

Boot Camp is a bombshell change in the PC desktop marketplace. Suddenly, there will be options available to us sysadmins that we've never had before. This development is going to allow an organization to achieve the holy grail in computer workstation management--complete standardization on one model computer (e.g. the new Intel iMac). I'm so excited about this possibility that my workchair is spinning. Certainly, I'm not alone.

If Boot Camp makes wide press—which it will, most likely including John Dvorak who will claim this just proves he was right about Apple "switching to Windows"—or if this is made into a major selling point for Leopard, the entire nature of Apple's computer business will be changed, at least in popular perception. Sober thought will settle on Macs as being "the computers that can do it all"—and their higher prices will just reflect their being twice as much computer—and plain old Windows PCs will end up looking like bargain-basement remainders, the econoboxes of the computer world.

They certainly seem to be trying to get the word out.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006
00:36 - Attention all units

In half an hour, it will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.

We'll do this again in about a month for British and Canadian readers.

(Thanks to BrianD.)

Monday, April 3, 2006
22:57 - Amazing what they can do with Flash these days

Great stuff:

And today's Flash animators have John K. to thank.

Via Chris.

15:31 - Generations

After lunch on Friday, I went in to the Audi dealer with the intention of buying a new A3.

I had previously taken my much-beloved Jetta down to Cash For Cars, a little lot in the payroll-advance-loan district on San Carlos, to get it appraised. See, the car was in what I considered to be in very good shape, having been dutifully cared for over the course of its life, with every little squeak and squawk addressed. Indeed, the previous Friday, the morning after getting back from a Thursday of mid-week skiing at Sierra-At-Tahoe, I was scheduled to take it in for the appraisal; and wouldn't you know it, just as I pulled in to San Jose on Thursday night, the engine light came on. So I took it in on Friday morning and had a much-recommended local service shop take a look. (It was a cracked vacuum hose, which they replaced for free, charging me only for the time it spent on the smoke machine; they said the hoses came in bulk for like $5 each, so he'd just throw in the part gratis. I'll be going back there in the future, I believe.)

So anyway: Cash For Cars had done the appraisal on Monday following the hose replacement. I'd been hoping to get something in the neighborhood of $7000-$8000 for it, judging by edmunds.com and a rating of "good" for the car in the condition it's in, where the only major things wrong with it are a few scuffs and dings, and where I'd recently had that whole brouhaha with Bob Lewis that eventually was resolved by them doing a whole bunch of free work on the interior, restoring numerous little broken things to factory working order. (I'd also seen used '99 Jettas going for $10K in the paper, after being reconditioned, presumably.) But the guy rubbed his chin and told me that despite its good running condition, Jettas just don't sell that well around here; especially considering that mine had just shy of 100,000 miles on it. "If it were at 60K, this car would be gold," he told me. "But with this high a mileage, the best I can write you is $5000. Well, $5500, because of all that work you've put into it."

Disappointing, but at least that gave me a base from which to start. And on Friday I headed to the Audi dealer, full of high hopes, but also burdened with guilt over my impending release back into the wild of the Jetta that has treated me so well.

I'd been waiting all week for them to get my car in. What I wanted was a stick-shift A3 with the Sport Package and no nav system. (I do not want to have to dismiss a legal warning every time I start up the car, just to get access to the radio.) I'd considered the trick DSG paddle-shift system, and test-drove a DSG car a week or so ago to decide whether it was something I wanted, and concluded that it's very slick, but it turns into an automatic if you're not paying attention to it—which means that it would be cool about once per friend that I show it off to. Not worth the $1800 or whatever it cost. So it's the six-speed for me.

Only trouble is, there's apparently only one such car in the whole of Silicon Valley—a Lava Gray one with the Open Sky System (dual-paned sunroof, which I didn't particularly want, but I could live with it) that can be had through a dealer trade from somewhere else in the area. They'd been trying to get it in all week, and finally on Friday they called me to tell me it was in.

I stepped on the lot, met my sales guy, and we headed out to the back where they were hosing it down. Looked dandy to me—deep gray, large-grained metal-flake finish; two-tone alloy wheels; a broad expanse of elegantly textured plastic across the dashboard, and a line of light-colored thread trimming the contours of the leather seats. I gave it a quick look over and nodded my assent, and we went back inside.

On the way, I asked about the trade-in. I'd been told to be wary of this particular dealership, as it had attained something of a reputation of being very stingy on trade-in offers. But I had my options open, and so I filled out the declaration form in the salesman's upstairs office while he checked out the Jetta in the lot.

The office being where it was, in a loft at the top of a long metal staircase over the showroom floor, and the waits between phases of the purchasing process being on the long side with nothing for me to do but stare at the wall and ponder when my last tune-up was and whether the car was a "lemon law purchase", I got to observe many fascinating details of the auto sales business. A salesman down below closed a deal with an affluent-looking couple that moved a pre-owned A4 off the floor. As soon as the couple left the showroom, this salesman—a guy with a pronounced accent who had previously conducted me on a test drive of the DSG-equipped A3, and who had descended upon me on subsequent visits like a cranefly buzzing at me to give him the details of what car I was waiting for so he could helpfully take over from the sales guy I was working with—asked his co-workers, "Did they like me? Did they like me?", to which the half-lidded-eyes-and-knowing-grin answer was that he "had a lot of character; they liked that." Methinks he hasn't been on the job long. I was put irresistibly in mind of Gil, the hapless salesman from the Simpsons.

Soon my sales guy returned with his evaluation of my car, which to my consternation (but not my surprise) came to an offer of no more than about $3000. They'd rated the car's condition as "rough", which took me aback; I asked about it, and he said that they'd run a paint analysis on the body and found that the right front panel had newer paint than the rest, which meant that it had been recently replaced. (Gee, that's right; I'd had a fender-bender a few months prior.) And they're required to disclose information about any previous damage when they try to resell the car, even if there was no frame damage, and that pretty much guarantees that the car won't sell as easily. It also means they have to kick the car down to "rough" condition. Now, at this point they could have just been trying to sleazily low-ball me; but what tells me they weren't is that he said right out, "You might want to consider trying to sell it yourself." He wasn't trying to snap it up for cheap—he was actually recommending that I take it somewhere else, especially if I'd had a better offer. That seemed a pretty honest stance. And I had my $5500 offer from Cash For Cars, so I folded up the dealer's offer and we moved on.

From then on it was all very straightforward. My information all went into the computer; I was paying cash, so there was no financing stuff to worry about. We headed outside and took the car for a quick spin around the block; it had just finished being buffed up by the guys around back, and so our first stop was the gas station, where the salesman filled it to the brim for me. On the way he pointed out all the cool geek toys—the dual-zone climate control with its slick rotary temperature selector knobs and humidity-sensing defrosting functions, the radio with its spooky ability to download artist and track information even for regular old FM stations (I need to figure out what kind of side-band technology it's using), the sunroof controls, and so on. I discovered that the sunshade for the front sunroof panel had a broken latch and wouldn't close; the salesman, in genuine horror, begged me not to mention that little fact in the dealer survey form I was to get, and to fill out all the answers as "Extremely Satisfied" regardless, so he and the dealership wouldn't lose any brownie points with Audi; as a perhaps unspoken little quid-pro-quo, he took me to the parts department and put in my order for the factory iPod adapter using his employee discount. (It's back-ordered, and I'll have them fix the sunshade when they install the adapter after it comes in.) As an aside, the iPod adapter is apparently in such high demand that nobody at the dealership knew how exactly it works; it mounts in the glove compartment, but nobody can say whether the artist and track names appear on the radio console or what. I sure hope so; an iPod that's hidden away in darkness with no visible screen information is no fun at all. Even if you can skip tracks using the steering wheel scroll-buttons.

After that I was transferred in to the sales manager, who finalized everything with great efficiency. Here's where I was particularly impressed: they didn't even try to sell me on any dealer-added premiums. "You probably won't want to bother with any of these," he said, waving a little brochure full of extended warranty options. "But here's the warranty levels just in case. The prices range from so-and-so to such-and-such; whatever." And that was that. The original salesman once mentioned some rubber floormats that I could get (it was raining and muddy), but it appears that at least at this dealership, the days of $300 clearcoat treatments and hard-sell warranties are over.

A super-extra-legal-size contract form was printed up, I signed away my life, and I dropped two brand-new key fobs in my pocket. And at that point I realized that the process was far from over: I still had to sell the Jetta.

So I left the A3 sitting there in the parking lot, got back in the Jetta one last time, and took it out for its dead-car-driving ride a couple of miles down the road to Cash For Cars. The guy there was sort of surprised to see me; when I told him that his offer was the highest one I got, he grunted and said he must have been in a really good mood that day or something. He took another look around the car, repeating that $5500 figure to himself rather unbelievingly; we went inside, and he started punching up numbers, trying to figure out how he'd ever arrived at it. Now, I tried to be rather stingy with my information here; he was taking me at my word (I'd left his hand-written offer sheet at home), and I wasn't about to volunteer that the car had been in a fender-bender that had resulted in Audi downgrading the car to "rough". Even without that information, though, the guy never was able to figure out how he'd come up with such a high offer. Nevertheless, he cut me a check, I signed over the title, and I got in Chris's newly arrived car from work with no small twinge of guilt. Not to mention, of course, the pangs of regret as I saw his goons driving my beloved Jetta away as we pulled out.

We headed back to the Audi dealer and I fired up the A3, and drove it back to work. Then it was off home, for a weekend of giddy driving around the twisty roads south of San Jose. The A3 has a very grabby clutch that engages down at the bottom of the pedal travel, making it very easy to kill the engine; a few dozen miles of practice made quick work of it, though, and soon I was performing stop-light takeoffs on the dragstrip that is the Monterey Highway that would have left the Jetta well behind, the turbo four making a purposeful rattling growl that's very different in character from the nasal but smooth whirr of the seven-year-old VR6. By the time I pulled in at home, I could tell that this car and I were destined to have some great times of our own.

(There are some downsides. The brake and gas pedals are very close together, such that if my foot is in the wrong place, I can't reach the gas without nicking the brake with the wide part of my shoe. Also the crossbar on the center console cuts across right where my right calf likes to rest, and it's not particularly comfortable. The rear seats are lacking in headroom. And the window controls on the driver's door are too far back; I have to contort my arm to reach them. But these are down in the noise as far as complaints go—and they remind me of things wrong with the Jetta that I'd gotten used to, such as the trunklid release that required me to hold down the button for like ten seconds before it responded, and the loose and floppy gearshift lever, and the dorky cupholders that apparently break whenever you try to repair the water pump. Seriously. Ask SpeeDee Oil Change how in the name of bilgewater they managed to break my cupholder while they were fixing my water pump. I'm dying to know, and they're keeping mum.)

The reason I went for the A3, by the way, has primarily to do with the fact that it's the modern generation of the Jetta/Golf platform, only kicked up a notch in the sport/luxury department. It's got the same upright seating position, the same push-in-and-left-and-up-for-reverse gearbox, the same sort of interior and exterior dimensions, the same aggressive, nose-down stance, the same knobbly chin, even with the big Audi horse-collar grille (which, as many have said, looks better on the A3 than on the other Audi models on which it appears). I feel very much at home in this car. Previously I'd been considering sport sedans a little bit bigger than the Jetta—the A4, for instance, or the Acura TL, or the Saab 9-3. But for some reason, a couple of weeks ago I suddenly found myself taking a second look at the A3—which I'd previously dismissed because its sport package wasn't available without leather seats, which I don't like as much as cloth mostly for reasons of hot and cold against the skin—and thinking, "You know, what I need isn't a bigger Jetta. I want another Jetta, dammit." The only problem being that the modern iteration of the Jetta is fugly. And the GTI, while its ads are among the Best Evar™, is two-door—a deal-killer for me, the one who does the bulk of the driving of my six-footer friends to lunch on a daily basis. (And the four-door Golf isn't here yet; nor do I like its styling much.) Besides, the A3 came to just a hair over $30K with tax and license and everything, a significant bargain next to the other cars I'd been weighing, all of which started in the $32K range, and that's MSRP. So the A3 it was.

So far, not a regret in the world. But there was one sticky point: the extra keys for the Jetta. I'd promised I'd swing by Cash For Cars today and drop them off. I sealed them in an envelope, along with the radio card (with its four-digit security code that unlocks the radio if the battery becomes disconnected) and the guy's original offer sheet, just to prove to him I wasn't trying to fleece him. But I'd been having nightmares all weekend: What if his shop had performed a paint analysis on the Jetta and found that there had been a body repair that I hadn't told him about, that would potentially have reduced its value by a whole bunch? He hadn't asked me whether there had been any damage; but still. Wasn't he just as required to disclose information about such damage to a buyer as the dealership was? Was he going to sic his goons on me and tackle me to the puddle-riddled asphalt as soon as I set foot on the property, and then beat me with a hose until I wrote him a check for the depreciation difference? How should I get this lumpy sealed envelope to him without exposing myself to physical or monetary liability?

This morning, I drove up to the Cash For Cars lot; I parked on the sidewalk on the next block, right on the main flow of traffic, avoiding any potential side-street traps, allowing me to make a clean getaway if necessary. I lurked on the corner, just within visual range and behind a pole, as the guy stumped around on the porch of the trailer. I waited until I saw him hold his phone to his ear—and that's when I made my move. I strode purposefully onto the lot, crossed the driveway, and went up the steps just as he turned and went inside and bent over a counter. I leaned in the door, and before he had a chance to say anything, I held out the envelope, with its clearly Sharpied scrawl of his name and the Jetta's license plate number on it, and smiled hopefully. And lo—he took it, gave me a genuine-sounding "Thank you!" that didn't seem to belie any hidden malice, and didn't lead into any "Oh, could you hang on for a minute? I need to talk to you about something" or anything of that nature. So I backed out of the doorway, spun around, and scuttled away.

With that, the last of my relics from the Jetta Age are with me no longer; only my file folder full of service records remains to me, and the VHS tape that had originally come with the car, explaining its amenities. Now I've got a new manual to pore through, a new binder full of mysterious little booklets, and a new car to which it all applies. It's faster and more nimble than the old one was—there's no body roll in turns, and it feels like a go-kart when I swerve around potholes—but I'll always miss the Jetta and its winsome eagerness to please when called upon to deliver for one of my silly stop-light-driven whims. The new car makes more exciting noises when the hammer is down, what with the rattling bang of its four cylinders and the high-pitched whine of the turbo that kicks in right around 2000 rpm, and the ESR light that yowls at me when I try to do it all on a slick wet road with manhole covers under the tires.

And if I'm ever pursued by goons who have come to the conclusion that $5500 is too high a price for a '99 Jetta GLS VR6 with 99,000+ miles on it and an infinitude of happy driving thoughts absorbed into its cloth seats, I feel sure I can outrun them.

UPDATE: It's RDS in my radio. Thanks to Jamie for the pointer!

09:51 - Scary Movie 5

There's a problem I see with this:

Again my friends, offending the liberal sensibilities and ostrich mentality is also long overdue. The Democrat Party and their collaborators at the TV network news divisions have tried to bleach from our memories those horrific images of 9/11/2001. I thank God that director Paul Greengrass and Universal Pictures have the guts to show some of our American heroes during the hours of our nation’s darkest day.

I saw "Flight 93" on the A&E Network and it was enraging, enthralling, horribly sad, and wonderfully uplifting. This is an American story that must be told. I hope to be first in line on April 28 to see United 93.

I'd like to see it too. But I might prefer to wait for DVD. The problem is that the theater will be full of people who will cheer when the planes hit the towers.

Just you watch. There will be news stories about hecklers fresh from remaindered screenings of V for Vendetta and Fahrenheit 9/11 and burned DVDs of Loose Change, cramming into the cinema just to cheer and jeer. They'll be written by bewildered AP wire journalists who can't understand how such a thing could come to be.

I wouldn't be surprised if fist-fights break out.

It's true, we're not ready for certain things. And we probably won't ever be.

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© Brian Tiemann