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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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
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10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, May 26, 2006
20:26 - Okay, okay—"mutant" equals "gay". I get it already.

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I'm only going to say two things about the X-Men 3 movie.

The first is what the title suggests: gee, you think they were clear enough in what the whole "mutants" thing is supposed to be all about, at least in this iteration of the story? I don't think there was a person in the theater who wasn't thinking it, given all the sociopolitical setup and vocabulary and so on. But that being the case, the movie ends up saying some rather interesting things, even if just inadvertently: it demonstrates that, gee, you know, maybe some people in the affected group might actually have some legitimate reason to want to take advantage of a "cure". And, as the movie tries to establish as its point, maybe it would be a good idea for there to be a state of coexistence between those who would want a "cure" and those who would reject it, rather than a monolithic decree that such a thing is either a panacea to be forced on everyone by fiat or else wholly rejected on principle. That sure would be something.

The other thing: Does anybody think that, if the Golden Gate Bridge were destroyed, San Francisco would even consider rebuilding it exactly as it was? Hell no. You just know they'd build some gleaming, stainless-steel, post-modern, post-national, Starfleety thing with one giant pontoon and huge cables going sideways or something. If the country can't get behind building this (instead of this), the Golden Gate Bridge doesn't stand a chance. (Anybody care to guess what we'd collectively vote to spend to rebuild Mt. Rushmore if someone bombed that?)

Meh. Meh I say.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and I can't believe they did a callout to this. ...No, maybe I can.

UPDATE: What's my mutant super power, you ask?

I have the ability to suck out the comedic energy and cameraderie from any social situation by conspicuously being the only person not laughing at all the insipid Bush jokes on late-night TV or jabbering urgently about how great "Loose Change" is. You can call me "The Sore Thumb".

Seriously. People say the "9/11 conspiracy" meme is only just now starting to gain fitful momentum? Among my peer group it's the accepted wisdom, and anyone who believes the "official story"—to say nothing of anyone who thinks it's in poor taste or ghoulish to bat such speculation around—is "that weird uptight prickly guy with all the issues".

I'm glad to be home.


20:15 - Ya know what? Ya know what?

(top)
I think the video iPod needs a feature or setting that allows you to specify "TV Matting" when you're playing videos through a cable to a TV.

If what you have is a tube TV where a lot of the signal area is pushed off into the margins behind the plastic of the frame, a lot of the edge material in an iPod-driven video gets lost and covered up. There needs to be a way to attach black padding on-the-fly, on all sides, so the on-screen video actually shows everything in the 320x200 movie file.

You know. I'm just sayin', is all.


15:20 - Dreamworks' moon is rising

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Maybe all those "making of" featurettes they've been showing among the previews of recent movies had gotten me all cynical, but I really wasn't expecting too much from Over the Hedge. "Oh boy," I thought. "William Shatner going Rosebud. Garry Shandling, back from the dead. Wanda Sykes as an 'urban' skunk. That dowdy Minnesotan couple from all the Christopher Guest movies. And Bruce Willis, for some reason—Bruce Willis, that well-known voice actor, who keeps getting cast in action films because of his voice." Add that to the fact that it seemed for all the world to have nothing whatsoever to do with the strip of the same name—same character names, granted, but none of the same artistic style or character motivations or air of bored, wacky cynicism (which is a great trick if you can pull it off), and I was expecting to see an uninspired, frenetic, morally heavy-handed fable about the urban blight that is suburban sprawl.

But while the moralizing was indeed there, it never really had time to get too thick about the ankles, because—to my great pleasant surprise—the story turned out to be rich enough and engaging enough to attract all the viewer's attention onto itself. The characters were well-developed and believable. The gags were usually dead on target (the laser pointer scene was particularly masterfully pulled off). The star power wasn't wasted. And what I found to be the biggest indicator of how far Dreamworks has come in recent years is that the final twenty minutes of the movie featured more callbacks to little bits of foreshadowing that had been hinted at earlier in the story than I think I'd ever seen before; whether it was a berry on a branch, or a caffeine gag, or a "playing possum" bit, or a bout of clowning with a turtle shell, every last thing came back for an encore that managed to fit into the unfolding of the plot's resolution. While it's true that too much of that sort of thing can feel like the writers are simply trying too hard, in this case it felt like gorging oneself on way too much pilfered junk food: yeah, I'll probably regret it later, but it sure tastes good now.

I think that's what Dreamworks is doing at this stage, as a matter of fact: trying to prove to all comers that they're the equal of Pixar in the storytelling arena. Shrek was good, and so were Shrek 2 and Madagascar—but from traditional animated fare like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and The Road to El Dorado to their PDI-animated 3D films like Antz and Shark Tale, they've had a tough time proving their stuff could seriously compete with Disney's or Pixar's. Even when their stories were good, they often failed as spectacularly as Disney did in its later years in wooing a merchandise-buying young public. The Prince of Egypt and Spirit haven't done much better than Atlantis or The Emperor's New Groove in attracting franchises. Over the Hedge, it seems, is aiming to change all that, at whatever cost is necessary.

The trick lies in having fun with the story. And while it's indeed true that all the throw-and-catch plot-point callbacks did seem to cluster a little bit too thickly by the time the credits rolled, I found it to be more out of the writers' genuine enjoyment of the material than out of an obsessive need to prove themselves worthy and to strike before the almost impossibly-highly-hyped Cars hits screens this summer. My evidence, such as it is, is all the geeky and injokey stuff they did during the credits sequence: direct callouts to all the animation units as each one is listed by name (the "Lighting" group, for example, being heralded by the characters showing up in gray unrendered model form and wearing sunglasses, then after the screen flashes white they're all standing there with all their shaders applied as in the final render). Very clever, and clearly the result of artists who really enjoy what they're doing.

Maybe they're just faking it really well. But I like to think this is the real deal. And good on Dreamworks, then, for being real live competition—the stuff that's more than anything else going to force Pixar to have to scramble to stay on top.

Thursday, May 25, 2006
19:55 - Try "I'd Hit That" next
http://www.harpers.org/ImHatinIt.html

(top)
Um... are these guys aware that not only was this story originally from a year ago, but the "I'm Lovin' It" slogan is McDonald's, and the "Allah Ice Cream" thing is Burger King?

Or is that one of those things that's beneath the Harper's editors?

Via LGF.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
16:10 - International Camouflage 101
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060524/OPINION01/605240307/1008

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Well, this is sure inspiring.

The prevailing thought these days does seem to be that if we just wear gray bags over our heads and don't speak above a whisper, then maybe we can keep our lardy American butts from attracting any unwanted international attention.

Certainly any time anyone in a movie screams "I'm an American!" or something similar, it's because they're a parochial rube in a loud Hawaiian shirt who's been stomping all over the pure and innocent rest of the world and deserves every bit of the treatment he's likely to get wherever the gendarmes are dragging him. Clearly the solution ought to be that we should anonymize ourselves, the better to dissociate ourselves from any such red-faced poltroon whose antics have given our country such a bad name that it can never be exonerated.

We've learned the lesson well enough that extreme nationalism is to be defended against. I don't suppose anyone sees any negative consequences for extreme anti- nationalism, do they?

Via InstaPundit.

UPDATE: Maybe not. (Via Steven Den Beste.)

Still, though: I've been expecting this kind of thing for a while now. The sentiments I mentioned are real, or at least the impulses. I wouldn't be surprised if we do see stuff like this happening before long.

(Fake but accurate? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it. I don't wanna get left out.)

UPDATE: Yeah, I'd say "fake but accurate" is fair.


11:21 - How the other half lives

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I'm staying for a week with some friends in the Seattle area, and in the process I'm discovering something of what it really means to have Windows as your primary computing platform.

You know... I like to think of myself as a computer-savvy sort of person. I work in software development. I write all my own back-end and front-end web app code. I've written six or seven books on various and sundry operating systems, developing and promoting workflows and user experiences to readers unfamiliar with said platforms, essentially in a teaching role. I've made digital videos. I've made photo books. I've tweaked my iTunes library to within an inch of its life. I've written programs that fill in the blanks where commercial programs fail. I've replaced hard drives and fans and built computers from scratch, and I've participated in unboxing ceremonies of inviolate ready-made machines. I've been using computers of all stripes for some twenty years now, and it's been a long long time since I thought of myself as a "novice" at anything.

That is, until I saw these guys' Windows machines.

I use Windows every day at work. It's not as though I don't know how Windows operates. I am freshly familiarized with all its ins and outs every time I have to reinstall it (which is frequently), and there are many applications on it that are critical to my job, including apps whose operation I have to automate to drive their interactions with our products. I am far from a Windows neophyte, in an objective sense; in a lab setting, with a well-known set of apps and when executing one specific task at a time, it's something I have no trouble grasping. But what I'm finding I don't have even the slightest understanding of is how Windows behaves when in the hands of someone who uses it 24/7/365 as a home computer, perpetually hooked into a zillion little online communities, dancing its human-independent dance through cyberspace while its owners sleep.

The computer I'm typing on right now, for example, has so many apps running at this very moment that there's not a single tile in the Taskbar that's wide enough to show any text—just the often incomprehensible little 16x16 icon. The browser I'm using is Opera (IE and even Firefox have been banished from this computer), which takes over the entirety of the 1280x1024 screen like every other perpetually maximized window, and incorporates an e-mail client in a sidebar, within another sidebar showing dozens of little mode icons for things like transfers, history, a dictionary, voice feedback, sticky notes, and so on. There are tabs after tabs, toolbars after toolbars, and—most disconcerting to me at first—no control buttons. This machine's owner has customized the browser to use mouse gestures instead of buttons for Stop, Back, Forward, New Page, and so on. Right-click and drag left to go Back, for example. It works really well if you know that's what you're supposed to do, but sitting down in front of this thing I found myself completely at sea.

Every one of the dozens of little Taskbar tabs expands into a chat window, a file transfer seeking episodes of some Japanese comedy show or anime or something, a file being uploaded or downloaded to/from some P2P bit-pool, or a window into any of the (no kidding) six or seven hard drives full of all the digital spoils of these sojourns. Every movie I've ever seen that depicts the neon jungle of Tokyo or Shanghai, every direction in which you look a riot of color and noise and chaos confronting you and demanding either your intention or your indulgence—that's what this is like.

Things aren't made any easier by the fact that if these machines are in any way representative, every single function is handled by a third-party app, not one made by Microsoft or any of the other "majors". The PDF viewer here is "Foxit Reader", not the Adobe Acrobat reader (which I'm told is slow and unwieldy), and which feels very similar to Preview in its snappiness and layout. The image viewer is "XnView". The unzipping utility, the movie player, the mail reader/web browser—they're all "alternative". And of course the music player is WinAmp, in all its wondrous single-playlist-with-entries-based-on-filenames glory. For better or worse, I don't think I know of a Mac user who would dream of using anything other than iTunes for music. This computer even has a Mac OS X workalike Dock sitting at the top of the screen. Oddly, it's not comforting.

Perhaps it's the full-screen windows that are the biggest mystery to me. Every single window is maximized at all times (and this is true of other Windows machines I've seen in the past); granted, when your browser has so many tabbed pages open at once that you can't identify them by name any more than you can identify the dozens of applications in the Taskbar (Opera remembers all your open pages when you close the app and reopens them all when you relaunch it, so that it would have to take literally hours to look through all of them—and that's not even counting reloading the various pages to see the updates throughout the day), you pretty much have to have your windows maximized in order to fit them all. But to me this defeats the entire purpose of having a multi-window operating system. I'm used to being able to have two windows open right next to each other, overlapping—say, a web browser and an e-mail message—and copy and paste stuff between them by clicking in the windows to switch from one to the other. I don't want to have to rely on Alt+Tab to switch contexts just to shuttle data back and forth. But this kind of desktop is just so customized, so highly tuned, so festooned with personalized workflow enhancements that the owners obviously know what they're doing.

I feel really creepily out of my league looking at this stuff. I find myself wanting a Dock with big buttons, a Desktop with no icons except for a hard drive or two, and even a one-button mouse. (The 2-dimensional scroll wheel of the Mighty Mouse, I'll have that, though. Thank you.) I want a blue desktop background, one that I can see peeking back at me from around my non-maximized applications. I want to be able to list off the currently running apps using the fingers of one hand. And I want to feel like the applications packaged by the company that created the computer are the best ones for the job. These thoughts make me wonder: just what kind of geek am I? How is it that I've arrived at a situation where looking at a computer case with a clear plastic side panel, a blue light emanating from the CPU fan inside (peeking out from between six hard drives all strapped precariously together), and a faux-Starfleet emblem in chrome and illuminated internally in purple on the front panel, makes me feel like I'm in a foreign country?

One thing's for sure, at least: Apple's got its work cut out for it, winning over people like this.

UPDATE: Oh yeah. The audio playback in MP3s or videos stutters every two or three minutes. And you still can't reliablly seek to a position within a movie and have it resume playing properly.

And there's no built-in SSH program.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
21:08 - Back to the Future
http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike/

(top)
So now there's an integrated iPod nano/Nike running shoe connectivity thingy that lets the iPod sense how fast you're running and give you voice feedback and inspirational workout music according to how well you're doing?

It's the modern pedometer. I wonder what Ben Franklin would have thought.

Interesting technology, though. And weirdly enough, it seems to me like it might prove to be one of the more significant technical advances in the shoe world since, I don't know, velcro? Sweatshop labor? Certainly it's cooler than little basketball-shaped air pumps.

They would announce this just as we're preparing to go to print, wouldn't they? (But then, being a partnership with another company, this is one of those rarest of things: an Apple product whose promo page has phrases like "Coming soon" and "Sign up to hear when it's available"...)

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© Brian Tiemann