g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Thursday, June 8, 2006
11:10 - In the running for Coolest Thing Ever
http://www.devilducky.com/media/46386/

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The lyre bird rules.

Though not, as Chris points out, when it nests near a pedestrian crossing...

Wednesday, June 7, 2006
00:48 - Kids these days
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,198632,00.html

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Is this the kind of thing Mr. Jobs wants on his conscience?

In a rare instance, Apple Computer Inc.'s iconic iPod music player surpassed beer drinking as the most "in" thing among undergraduate college students, according to the latest biannual market research study by Ridgewood, N.J.-based Student Monitor.

Via Steven Den Beste, who says:

They say that a sure sign that you're getting old is when you start to brood
over the moral failings of the younger generation. I know I am...

What did we do wrong? Is this what we raised those kids to be?

All those poor freshmen, forced to undergo humiliating fraternity initiation rituals like "Show us what's on your playlists" and "Polish the seniors' nano screens". This'll all end in death! Deaaaaaath!


17:02 - Give that man a medal
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=20935_CBS_News-_An_Imminent_Threat&onl

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In a story about recently uncovered terrorist rings in the US and Canada:

Police in Toledo, Ohio, busted another cell in February. This one consisted of three men training to attack U.S. forces overseas. Once again, luck played a role. When they tried to enlist someone in their mosque to help, he turned them in.

Small though the incident is as a part of the story and as a larger part of the ongoing narrative, that right there is some of the best terrorism-related news I've heard in years. Seriously.

I hope there are a lot more like him.


16:21 - Yes, your honor, I've got it all on tape
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00063E872/ref=sr_11_1/103-9233185-7582257?%5Fencod

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I just saw this in my B&H catalog. Is this cool or what? A little clip-on camera that continuously records a 30-second buffer of video matching what you see (if, say, you clip it to your glasses or hat)... if something cool happens, you hit a button and it saves the last 30 seconds and keeps recording until it fills up the Flash disk.

I used to fantasize about having something exactly like this—you know, to replay the day's events at leisure, exactly as they were. I could record every day and store them all in some giant library. (The archives of days I spent reviewing old footage would make for some pretty crappy viewing, though.) I even imagined little discs you could insert into a slot in your head, one for each day. This looks like the first step in that direction.

Too bad the company's site seems to be down.


16:15 - Those wacky Googloids
http://spreadsheets.google.com/

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This is potentially very cool. Not everyone has Office, believe it or not... which means not everyone has even a basic way to open spreadsheets, as my dad finds out every time he tries to mail out the statistics for his baseball rotisserie league. This could be the missing link.

Yet another thing for Microsoft to worry about...


15:53 - Evolve, adapter, or die

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Just recently I finally got some long-awaited work done on my new Audi A3 on which my full enjoyment of the car hinged. The first item was that the plastic latch keeping the sunroof's mesh shade closed was broken from day one, and apparently was so flimsily designed and had generated so many repair incidents that Audi was obliged to redesign the entire part, which naturally took some time. Only just now they told me that the part was in and I could come in and get it replaced. And now I can drive without being sunburned.

The other thing that I got—and perhaps even more importantly—is the Audi-supplied iPod adapter. They'd told me when I bought the car that it had to be back-ordered, and then never updated me on its progress; so when I was in getting the sunroof shade fixed, I asked about the adapter and when I could expect it in. The parts guy looked at me funny, then reached under the counter and pulled out a box.



It's meant to be installed by the pros, and I was already in the shop, so I handed them the box—after looking at its contents, which consisted of a few bags of cables and wiring harnesses and other such non-photogenic items—and resolved to come back later to pick it up. When I did, there was an unassuming little white iPod dock adapter cable sitting in the glove compartment, with its cord disappearing into the recesses at the back.

A far cry from my Jetta's solution—a Sonnet PodFreq connected to power through a thick coily FireWire cable to the cigarette lighter and a tape adapter sticking out the top and into the stereo through another cord—to be sure.

It sounds silly to say it, but this was actually a factor in my getting a new car: I wanted something with a factory-blessed iPod integration solution. I was sick of choosing between FM transmitters (which gave out dull, muted sound) and tape adapters (which my car's tape deck was never too friendly with, noisily auto-reversing whenever it detected more than a couple of seconds of inter-track silence, and taking enough time to re-sync its workings that it invariably skipped the first couple of seconds of the next song after the auto-reversal, and making lots of clacky mechanical noise even during normal playback), and I was sick of having to worry about hooking it up to power. I wanted crisp, clean line-in sound that I could crank up to full blast without hearing tape hiss or radio interference. I wanted to be able to use the little wheely-knob on my steering wheel to skip tracks and adjust volume. I wanted to see the title and track display on my radio's alphanumeric readout, like the Audi already did with RDS-capable stations.

But after a few minutes of using the Audi iPod adapter and learning its ins and outs, I have to say that there are certainly some advantages to my old system.

First, and most disappointing, is the fact that the adapter does not transmit title and track information to the dash unit. Bah humbug.

That's largely because the unit splices in in place of the CD changer, and the CD player's dash readout doesn't have a facility for displaying anything but TRACK 01 and so on. But that design restriction leads into some of the other dictates upon how the unit works.

The CD changer in the A3, like most changers, has room for six discs. That means the dash unit can switch between any of six CD "channels", labeled CDC1 through CDC6. With the iPod adapter wired in, those six "channels" become retasked as playlists. In other words, CDC1 through CDC5 are the first five playlists in the iPod's listing, in lexicographical order, and CDC6 is a synonym for the "Songs" listing in the iPod, comprising all the tracks on it regardless of playlist or other organizing criteria.

The manual recommends that you set up five playlists and give them names that start with numbers, so that they get sorted to the top of the iPod's flat list and the adapter picks them up. Since iTunes now supports hierarchical playlists in folders, even though the iPod doesn't, I made a folder called "For the Car", and put duplicate playlists in there called "1. Music 4+" and "5. The Silmarillion", which I cheekily made Smart Playlists whose only criteria were "Playlist is Music 4+" and "Playlist is The Silmarillion", so they matched my existing playlists. Organized into the folder, they don't ugly up my playlist collection, and the iPod still sees them right at the top of the list, which sorts them neatly into the Audi adapter's five playlist slots.

But that masks a glaring problem: playlists are the only way to access your iPod's music.

You hook up the iPod to the cable in the glovebox, start up the car, and it loads up CDC6 (the "all songs" listing) by default; you then use the dash buttons to skip through your five programmed playlists or the "all songs" listing. If you look at the iPod's screen while it's doing this, you notice that it's been replaced with an Audi logo, and then with title and track information for the currently playing song—but in a weird, condensed, non-antialiased font that's clearly part of Audi's own software interface that it's shoving onto the iPod for the duration of the time it's connected to the car. This readout tells you what song is currently playing, but not the length/endtime display (the time elapsed is shown on the dash unit), and the iPod's controls are all locked out.

This means you cannot dial up a particular song and play it through the Audi iPod adapter system.

You have to figure out your playlists in advance, anticipating what songs might be of interest while in the car, and rely on the Forward/Back controls in the dash unit or on the steering wheel to skip blindly through the playlists rather than having any of the kind of direct control over your music's organizational structure for which the iPod is rightly famous. On the road to Alaska and want to dial up a Da Vinci's Notebook song to laugh at? Tough luck—you've got to wait until you're back home with iTunes before you can reshuffle your playlists to put those songs somewhere where you can find them in a linear search. If you want real random access, it's back to FM-transmitter time. (The A3 doesn't even have a tape deck, so I don't have even the option of choosing auto-reverse flapping over FM-radio dullness of sound.)

Audi seems to have tried its best to come up with a compromise solution here. It's not the kind of 100% solution that only Apple could really provide, but they've done the best they can with what they have to work with. Other automakers have gone instead for solutions that put the iPod right at arm's length, with its native display and interface as the primary method of control, and a line-in jack for the dash unit, as in the Dodge Caliber—a minimalist approach, but one that focuses on the iPod's native ease of use as its claim to elegance. Audi's tactic, like BMW's, is to try to move as much of the control as possible into the car's own interface elements, like the dash buttons and steering-wheel controls; but in the process, it's inevitably forced the user to accept a number of compromises in how accessible the music on the iPod is.

It's not without its bugs, either. This is clearly a "1.0" sort of product. For example, the dash readout not only doesn't show the track and title information, it steps sequentially through the songs—even in random shuffle mode—by showing TRACK 01, TRACK 02, and so on. (The iPod display shows the correct number of the track in the playlist). Of course this also means it can't show any number higher than 99, which isn't a big deal as it's meaningless anyway, but the manual states apologetically that you shouldn't make playlists with more than 99 songs in them. (Pshyeah.) But that's not all! Random/shuffle mode is sort of wonky, in that if you select a playlist, it always chooses the first song in the playlist in order—it doesn't pick one at random, as is the case if you start playing a playlist in Shuffle mode on the iPod directly. So I always have to press Next to skip past the first song, which is always the same. (The CD shuffle mode you set in the dash unit overrides the iPod's shuffle setting, though, which is nice. But "CD" and "CHANGER" shuffle modes don't seem to differ—if you're in "CHANGER" mode, it doesn't shuffle between all five playlists. Not that I would really want it to, but whatever.) Also, whenever you restart the car, the iPod starts playing again at the point where it was when you shut it off or disconnected the cable—very slick—but the car always shows CDC6, no matter which playlist you'd selected. I've found through experimentation, however, that this is a display error—it does in fact remember which CD channel/playlist it was on, and remains in that playlist as you skip through songs; it just shows CDC6. (It would have been eye-meltingly irritating if it had actually reverted to the "all songs" listing every single time I restarted the car, forcing me to change to the proper CDC# playlist manually after it finishes playing the song it had been on before I turned off the car, and then press Next to skip past the first perpetually non-shuffled song, every single time.)

When you first connect the adapter, there's a little readout under the Audi logo that says "Software v1.1" (or something similar). I don't know whether to be encouraged by this or not—presumably it means the software is under ongoing development and can be upgraded, though I don't know if that means I'll have to take it in to the dealership and have them yank out the whole mess of cables and flash the firmware, or if they'd be able to do it through the Dock connector, or what. I'll choose to be optimistic on this front, hoping they polish up the shuffle behavior and maybe add some useful data to the dash readout. But I don't know that there's really anything that can be done about the real crippling characteristic of this solution: that navigation and direct access of your music is impossible through Audi's system. Maybe they'll figure out some way to allow you to cue up a song by name and have it play through the adapter. (Then again, maybe I can trick it—it seems to respect the "Now Playing" mode, so if I disconnect the iPod, select a song and start it playing, immediately pause it, and then hook it back up and resume, maybe that'll work. If only for one song at a time. I'll try that next.)

All in all, though, the way I listen to my iPod music is as much shaped by the circumstances in which I listen as by my own preferences; I've learned to be happy with the limited control set available to me as I ride my bike, for example, by just keeping it in shuffle mode all the time and picking songs from my 4-star-and-higher playlist. It'll work just the same in the Audi. And in the meantime, the sound quality is phenomenally great, at least compared to what I've been used to. Whether it's Bach or the Butthole Surfers, the sound is crystal clear no matter how high I crank it, and there's no clacking or clanking, and no cords cluttering up my cockpit.

(I swear I didn't mean that last sentence to happen that way. It just sort of got away from me. Sorry.)

I was honestly having a hard time warming up to this car. It's got some ergonomic decisions that I find questionable (like the too-far-back placement of the window control switches and the stupid "credit card drawer" that would be an identically-sized cupholder if the car was an A6 and had a deeper dash assembly, so they service guys told me when assuring me they couldn't swap it out for an A6's cupholder like I wanted). But now that I've got a working iPod solution, I'm finding that I'm starting to love the A3 as much as I did my Jetta.

That, my friends, is how you identify a true-blue brainwashed Macolyte.

UPDATE: According to Chris M., Audi's solution is so similar to BMW's that they may well have used the same contractor.

UPDATE: Good news! It turns out that the adapter really doesn't care what's playing at the time you connect it—it doesn't enforce its own new playing context on the iPod or start any song selection routine afresh according to any internal heuristics, and the five CD "channels" are only convenient mappings to the radio buttons so you can perform some rudimentary navigation through the car's interface. The upshot of this is that you can navigate in the iPod to any music, podcast, or whatever, and then hook it up to the car and it'll keep playing as though you just plugged in headphones. It'll even keep within the iPod's current playback context—so if you navigated to a song by artist and then album, subsequent songs (even randomly selected ones) are chosen from within that album, just as on the iPod.

That's a huge relief. And it means my objections voiced earlier are essentially rendered moot. Never mind!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006
20:24 - The Swedish flag does a dance

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I've got friends who love Sweden and all things Swedish. To the point where they may as well move there and be just as happy as anywhere else, despite having no family connections or anything—it's just the Promised Land.

Or, at any rate, it was.

Two Swedish girls were sent home from school for wearing sweaters showing a tiny Swedish flag. The headmaster was concerned that this might be deemed offensive by some immigrants. Helle Klein, political editor of the newspaper Aftonbladet, boasts: “If the debate is going to be about whether there are problems with immigrants, we don’t want it.” Hans Bergström, former editor-in-chief of the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, worries that Sweden has become “a one-party state.” According to Friedman, the elites are nervous and worried to see their power slip away. And therefore they want to silence critics, as for instance the Sweden Democrats, a small rightist party outside parliament opposed to immigration. “It is a completely legal party, they just aren’t allowed to speak. It is absurdly undemocratic. They are marginalised. They are isolated and ridiculed. . . . and then they are called undemocratic.


Oh well—there's always England, right?

If these articles are in any way accurate—and they come from well-respected writers in both cases—Europe's in for a world of hurt. "Unless something serious is done about this" is how Fjordman puts it, but I don't know of many cures that aren't worse than the disease.

I don't even know if it's morally okay to just take stock of how marvelously good we've got it here by comparison, where not only do we get to keep a lot more of our money, but cars don't get torched and teenage girls can walk the city streets unaccosted and people are still permitted to express their dissenting opinions with as loud a voice as they can summon the power for. The number of countries in the world that get labeled as "democracies" might be rising, but the meaning of the word is apparently being diluted out of existence.

Monday, June 5, 2006
03:46 - At least it seemed like a bad idea at the time
http://apple.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/06/04/0022215

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Via evariste:

"Barely 3 months after it commenced India operations, Apple has decided to pull out its software operations from Bangalore. The employees will be given a severance package which is equal to two months' pay. The sales and marketing operations will remain on (these consist of around 30 people) but the software and support will be completely pulled out."

Still no word on what precisely was the reason for the pullout, but you don't throw a giant gala kickoff and hire tons of employees and send press releases everywhere and then suddenly spin 180 degrees and kill the project after three months without some huge thing going wrong. This isn't, as the commenters seem to be saying (at the beginning of the thread at least), just Apple being an inscrutable huge company that likes to hire and fire people at whim just to screw with their minds while monocled executives bathe in bins of gold coins. Something seriously bad happened here.

Mac web reaction seems to generally be positive, as nobody was really looking forward to the technical barriers alone that would be associated with a tech support center halfway around the world (assuming, of course, that this wasn't just an effort to support Asian/Middle Eastern/European customers). But it probably would have been way better all around if Apple hadn't got on board this train to begin with.


03:30 - Lemme axe you something

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Over the weekend Adult Swim showed the pilot episode of Korgoth of Barbaria, which is the first new series they've premiered in what seems like years that has not been overtly political.

Seriously. After Family Guy, American Dad, Robot Chicken, Moral Orel, Squidbillies, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Minoriteam, and of course The Boondocks, I'd begun to despair of seeing any return to the halcyon days when Cartoon Network late at night meant Brak and Space Ghost and other goofy callbacks to the classic Hanna-Barbera/Warner library that reveled in the silliness of the medium rather than the increasingly unwatchable drumbeat of political vitriol that the entire lineup has become. (Honestly: a week or two ago, there were something like four shows in a row whose premise was centered around some bitterly ironic, self-flagellating send-up of "white culture", culminating in the Boondocks episode in which Uncle Ruckus becomes a stage preacher exhorting the black masses to embrace the path to "white heaven" where an overtly racist Ronald Reagan in bleached cowboy gear held sway. I couldn't help but think that whether or not they'd consciously intended to put all these similarly-themed episodes of various different shows together in the same lineup that night or not, even the most dutifully apologetic white liberal might start to feel just a tad uncomfortable under this ceaseless barrage of vicious and hateful self-mockery. All you'd need to really complete the evening would be to flip over to that episode of Wonder Showzen about "white people, having fun / global domination over everyone / white people, smile so bright / genocide for everyone who isn't white".) I'd begun to think that even if Korgoth was just another mopey and formless piece of non-animation like Twelve Ounce Mouse or Perfect Hair Forever, I'd latch onto it like a limpet if only, if only it would grant me the singular boon of not being political.

Well, I'm in luck, it seems: not only is it not political, it's good. It's got the Tartakovsky/Rudish team behind it, so the directing and timing have some familiar-feeling twitches to them—but the visual style is something new, and the premise is refreshingly setting- and character-driven, instead of relying on cynical digs at current events. It's a grandly over-the-top, blood-drenched, muscle-bound, axe-swinging, post-apocalyptic barbarian saga with corny genre-bending gags and a soundtrack full of wheedly-wheedly rock guitars. It's like it's everything that could have been awesome about the animated shows from the 70s if only they'd had budget and good directors and distribution channels that paid for good writing and didn't mind selling to animation-hungry adults instead of formula-trained kids.

Don't get me wrong—I don't love this show. It's uneven and gross and some of the gags just don't work particularly well. But it's another new venture into the world of animated series that do something other than make fun of Bush, and for that alone I'm encouraged. Enough so that the show's intrinsic qualities such as good storytelling and fun animation are just icing.

Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew is hopeful as well, as it happens.

Speaking of ventures, the second season of Venture Brothers is on its way to screens on the 25th, and there's rumor of other shows in the pipeline which might too be universes unto themselves instead of vehicles for more political smarm. I for one can't wait. DARKNESS falls upon the house of Venture!!!

Now, what I don't know is whether Adult Swim is lining up these new shows because they're apolitical, perhaps realizing that they'd overplayed their hand with the recent monocultural offerings and might have started driving away more of their audience than they'd thought was at risk—or if these shows have simply been on the way for a long time and only just now happen to be hitting screens.

It might well remain a mystery, unless they choose to address the question up front in the bumps (always a possibility). But at least I know this: I haven't seen Saved by the Bell in the Adult Swim lineup lately.

Perhaps they can be taught.


01:45 - Got power?
http://anandtech.com/tradeshows/showdoc.aspx?i=2770

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Wow:

Power supply makers are being briefed now in order to make sure that the power supplies they are shipping by the end of this year are up to par with the high end GPU requirements for late 2006/early 2007. You will see both higher wattage PSUs (1000 - 1200W) as well as secondary units specifically for graphics cards. One configuration we’ve seen is a standard PSU mounted in your case for your motherboard, CPU and drives, running alongside a secondary PSU installed in a 5.25” drive bay. The secondary PSU would then be used to power your graphics cards.

"Junior! Any idea why our power bill is $400 this month?!"

"Um... uh... g-global warming?"


16:01 - Oh no they di'int
http://static.flickr.com/71/160851390_2675c1a15a_o.png

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Reportedly, this is not faked.

Contingent upon that, I pronounce this "awesome".

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© Brian Tiemann