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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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
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12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, December 17, 2006
22:28 - Simpsons did it!
http://daringfireball.net/linked/2006/december#sun-17-xplayer_whatever

(top)
How much you want to bet that Microsoft was all set to call the Zune the "X-Player", right up until Steve said this? And then they had to change it?

Yeah, I know: facetious. But the thought did cross my mind.

UPDATE: Evariste has a theory:

ActiveX, DirectX, XNA, .docx, Xbox, ...Microsoft loves the letter X to the Xtreem.. I think they thought "we'll tie it in with Xbox and call it Xune, as in iTunes". Then they worried people might not know how to pronounce it, so "Xune" becomes "Zune".

That hadn't even occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense.


21:00 - See what you wanna see
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=23695_Bonaduce_vs._Idiot#comments

(top)
I don't know why everybody at LGF thinks that this video represents a "smackdown" by Danny Bonaduce of this John Connor character over the 9/11 conspiracy theory. While applauding his gallantry in apologizing in advance to the lady next to him for the language he's about to use, and his forthrightness in cussing out the guy for accosting him during his meal with his inane on-camera interrogation, they seem to be mystified that the "Resistance Manifesto" site he fronts is proud to display this video.

Well, it's no mystery. To them, it's proof positive that anyone who doesn't believe 9/11 was an inside job is a foul-mouthed, confrontational imbecile who will swear at you and threaten you and demand obeisance for those in power rather than reading proffered books purveying "alternative" information. This video might be cathartic to someone wishing to see one of the conspiracy types verbally abused by proxy; but unfortunately it wasn't done with any finality or rhetorical skill. The closest it came to making a point was over the nature of the First Amendment, and on those grounds it was only really trudging through the mud of a fake-out side issue.

Granted, Bonaduce wasn't likely to have a litany of facts in front of him with which to refute the list of names Connor threw at him; certainly I'd never heard of them before. And he couldn't have been expected to have his arguments marshaled before him for easy deployment; he was just sitting there eating lunch, and Connor was specifically out to interview people using questions and barbs he'd been rehearsing all day.

But if I were confronted in a situation like this, the one thing I'd have to fall back on is asking the guy whether he can recite the First Amendment from memory, and whether he can explain how it applies to the situation at hand.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Neither of us being Congress, then, the "free speech" argument does not apply. Now let's discuss "missile pods" and "pancake effects" and "conservation of momentum" and other such obscure minutiae. Let's go.

Friday, December 15, 2006
23:50 - Make with the nice-nice

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In my mail just now:

Dear Brian,

Thank you for purchasing the South Park Season 10A and 10B from the iTunes Store. We know that the decision to split South Park Season 10A into two parts created some confusion for our customers.

We strive to create a perfect experience, so please accept this code good for seven $1.99 music videos or TV shows of your choice. Redeem the code below by clicking on the following link.

. . .

We sincerely thank you for being an iTunes customer and we value your continued business.

Sincerely,

Kate Wormington
Sr. Manager, Customer Experience
iTunes Store

It did indeed create confusion. I bought the "season pass" at the beginning of the season, and for seven episodes I got an e-mail when each one was ready for download, a couple of days after it aired on Comedy Central. It was an up-front $10.99 charge (I believe) for episodes that would magically show up in my iTunes as they became available, like podcasts.

But then the season cut short on TV, and so did the iTunes releases. That's when we found out that for reasons still unclear, Trey and Matt decided to do Season 10 in two chunks, their Comedy Central premieres separated by a few months. And when the Season 10B episodes started being released, they appeared on iTunes for à la carte purchasing, without generating season-pass e-mails or popping automatically into our download queues. It made sense, I guess, considering that low low price; and there was a fair amount of grousing in the review pages on the South Park Season 10 download page in iTunes, which (much to Apple's chagrin, I'm sure) also serves as a discussion forum of sorts. People complained that the "season pass" was only for half a season, which they felt was a bait-and-switch; and other people pointed out that they'd paid for seven episodes and got seven episodes, so what's to complain about? It was apparently even mentioned at the outset that it would only be for half the season, but that fact seemed to slip past a lot of people, including me; still, the weird splitting of the season on Comedy Central probably was nobody's idea of business-as-usual, including iTunes'. So when they didn't offer the season pass again for the second batch of episodes, a lot of people—like me—bought those episodes under our own steam.

But apparently that confusion's worth real moh-nay to people, because now they're passing out these coupons worth the price of what the season pass for Season 10B would have been. Seven free episodes of whatever. I'll bank 'em for later, and I'll be sure to use 'em.

Because hey—free stuff is free stuff. As far as I'm concerned, this gesture wasn't necessary. But that's perfectionism and eagerness-to-please for you. Or at least appeasement.

Maybe next I should annex the Sudetenland or something.

UPDATE:


Well, shoot! I knew there was a catch...


22:05 - i don't Phone, but maybe u do
http://money.cnn.com/2006/12/15/technology/pluggedin_mehta_iphone.fortune/index.htm?

(top)
I guess we'll know on Monday, but I'm not going to be losing any sleep over the weekend about the possibilities for the iPhone.

But this speculative article (via Lance) has some interesting meaty bits:

Or Apple could pursue a path similar to the one forged by traditional wireless phone makers, and sell its iPhone through the carriers - an option that probably doesn't appeal to Jobs, but gives him an opportunity to reach the largest possible number of U.S. consumers. But no matter how Apple decides to enter the wireless phone market, it is sure to change the status quo.

Here's why: Today, phone companies heavily subsidize handsets in exchange for long-term commitments from customers. That Nokia (Charts) phone you got for free from Cingular obviously cost the phone company something - probably hundreds of dollars - to buy from Nokia. Cingular, in the meantime, can make all kinds of demands of Nokia: It can ask for special packaging, prominent logo placement, etc.

This system drives Nokia and other wireless device makers crazy. First, it devalues the phone: Here you have what is essentially a handheld computer with more processing power than the first PCs, and consumers expect to get it for free. It also means the device maker has less control over how it can market and merchandise its products, a pretty unique position in the world of consumer electronics: Imagine if Dell couldn't sell laptops and desktops directly to consumers but instead had to sell them through Comcast, AT&T (Charts) or other broadband providers.

This is where Apple comes in - and why Nokia, Motorola (Charts), Samsung and LG might be secretly rooting for the iPhone to be a minor hit. Apple seems uniquely positioned to convince consumers to pay a premium - not demand a discount - for wirelessly connected devices, thus changing the economics of the wireless industry. Put another way: If a consumer is willing to pay $250 for an iPod Nano, why wouldn't she pay even more for a Nano that can make phone calls?

I don't know a thing about the economics of the cellphone industry, but I'm fully prepared to believe that it's as dysfunctional as the article suggests. It sure would be funny if Apple managed to pull off a play this complex; honestly, it would be pretty uncharacteristic, because most of their biggest successes—the iPod the biggest example of which—have been faintly offbeat, even tone-deaf things they introduced to skepticism and yawns, only to somehow catch on like fire in hay once they got some steam worked up. It was never some widely speculated strategy that some analyst came up with and that Apple brilliantly executed to the letter of the script. If there ever was a script, it was read from the safety of a vault deep under the Cupertino campus, and nobody knew what the lines would be until after they'd been performed.

I still think the coolest possibility is a WiFi-connected iPod that exists as a conduit to the iTunes Store, which would suck all the wind out of the Zune's sails. But that's not exactly "not what I expected at all", is it?


09:33 - Merry Christmas to me

(top)
The floor refinishing is done!

Before:



After:



Huh? Huhh?

Thursday, December 14, 2006
22:31 - You just winged him; you made him into a Unitarian
http://www.politicalcortex.com/story/2006/11/28/132922/70

(top)
What the hell's this? Payback for Carmageddon?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
00:14 - HALP US AL GOAR

(top)
This is bizarre. It's like 61 degrees out there right now. And it's midnight. This is August-type weather.

Then again, it was in the mid-30s a couple weeks ago...


18:16 - Better than washer-vs-dryer races

(top)
It's a race to the bottom! Who can piss off more customers first: Microsoft or Sony?

At this point it looks like it's Sony by a tankful. Which is impressive, because they're taking on the Astroturf masters.

UPDATE: I'm pretty sure this is a worrisome trend, really. Zipatoni, the marketing firm behind this thing, is apparently an old hand at these "fake viral" campaigns; and just the other day I actually saw an ad for Ziddio, a company that bills itself (in a semi-tongue-in-cheek manner) as being able to make viral videos for you and get them injected into the bloodstream of the body politic. "Activating consumers" indeed.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that as we watch both Sony and Microsoft fall all over themselves trying to pose as "hip" youth characters, with the inevitable result that they're found out within hours—the "Mac" character in the PC/Mac ads is exactly what they're trying to emulate, and does it convincingly: not by rapping and l33t-speaking, but by being polite and well-spoken in casual attire. Talk about counterintuitive.

...Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, no, I am not being paid by Apple. Some word-of-mouth advertising is spontaneous.

UPDATE: Hey, Microsoft actually seems to have learned something about how to respond to populist broadsides in good humor. Now, I don't think the point made is all that compelling; but fair's fair, and it is actually rather funny.

UPDATE: So's this, though I feel like it shouldn't be. (Via Marcus.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006
23:02 - A sinking tide lowers all ships
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/12/11/digital_downloads_flatline/

(top)
Apparently iTunes sales are tanking, if you believe the forensic techniques of credit-card-snooping analysts:

Secretive Apple doesn't break out revenues from iTunes, but Forrester conducted an analysis of credit card transactions over a 27-month period. And this year's numbers aren't good.

While the iTunes service saw healthy growth for much of the period, since January the monthly revenue has fallen by 65 per cent, with the average transaction size falling 17 per cent. The previous spring's rebound wasn't repeated this year.

Wuh-oh! But then...

And it isn't just Apple's problem. Nielsen Soundscan has grimmer news for prospective digital download services, indicating three consecutive quarters of flat or declining revenues for the sector as a whole.

That's the real story: somehow the tide has turned against digital downloading in general, not against iTunes specifically. According to G4 TV's The Feed, the problem is that people are getting fed up with DRM; I think that's a load of rich creamery butter, myself, and it's notable that just like everyone else, G4 manages to misconstrue just what iTunes' DRM does to your music:

Personally, I don't mind paying a buck a song, but I don't like the idea that I can only copy it a couple times. Not as a pirating thing, but because I have a couple MP3 players and sometimes like to burn CDs for myself... so I rarely buy tracks online.

Yeah, because iTunes doesn't allow you to burn your tracks to CD or put them on multiple iPods. Right. That grinding rattle you hear is my eyes rolling.

The commenters on the G4 post (in between the predictable bitching about "proprietary" Apple and "open" Microsoft, and the usual litany of creative misspellings of I-Tunes/Itunes/Eye Toons) cite things like a lack of certain artists in the store and the limitations of dial-up Net access as their reasons for staying away from iTunes' content. A couple of people rightly point out that any digital format is dangerous if you want to be able to access your music forty years from now, and that compressed digital tracks—while plenty good enough for casual use—aren't exactly archival-quality; but people whose criteria include sound fidelity and format openness aren't people who used to buy from iTunes and have suddenly stopped.

I have this sneaking feeling that, despite the story's citation that iPod sales have quadrupled in the same period as online sales have declined so precipitously, people have reached a certain level of digital-download saturation. People are apparently realizing that you don't have to buy from iTunes to fill your iPods, and are buying CDs online more hungrily than ever. So even though downloaded tracks can be had á la carte and come with embedded album art and all, the concept has become passé. I guess buyers are making the decision that buying physical CDs still makes sense after all. Especially once you've bought a hard drive full of iTunes tracks and then found yourself faced with the onerous prospect of backing them up. At least if you buy CDs, that task is done for you. Plus the album art is nicely printed and all, and you can get the band to autograph it at a concert.

That doesn't mean I'm likely to change my buying habits. I've spent some $1500 on iTunes music thus far, including an increasing number of TV shows; but then my situation is such that backups aren't a problem for me, and I have an affinity for a medium that doesn't take up any space versus one that requires a shelf. I'm a tailor-made fit for Apple's download-to-own model, but I sort of doubt I'm representative of the general buying public. And even I'm getting lukewarm over the idea now that its reductio ad absurdum expression has arrived in the form of feature-length movies, which I am not embarrassed to say I'd love to rent for $5 a download that gives me a week or three viewings or whatever, but am not anywhere near so eager to buy them for $15 each, watch them once, and then grumblingly use up a gigabyte of backup space for each one on the off chance that I'll want to see it again in the foreseeable future. Music I can handle in that model; movies, not so much.

So I think people are just sort of waving their hands at the iTunes Store and going "ehh". It's not revolutionary like it was in 2003; music-download stores are a dime a dozen now, and the very concept has become tawdry and grimy, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of discount-feeling PlaysForSure stores jostling for mindshare in the chaotic and anonymous world of the non-Apple music player sector, not to mention the dilution of the market by music-playing cell phones that edge closer to iPod-level functionality every day. Now that even Cingular is selling a $50 iTunes-like sync-your-music-to-your-phone utility, iTunes itself is looking decidedly ordinary.

It may be that digital downloads are one of those technological flashes in the pan that seems like a brilliant revolution when it arrives, but eventually everyone realizes is not a materially better solution than what we already had—in this case, in the form of jewel-cased CDs and Amazon.com. I don't think DRM will disappear, like The Register and various countercultural malcontents seem to hope; but it may well become irrelevant. The numbers might be based on conjecture at this point, but they do seem to reflect the general sentiment I keep picking up in candid discussions, particularly where Apple fanboyism isn't the prevailing tenor of the forum.

iTunes is still a damned good MP3/AAC organizer/CD ripper. Maybe it'll be returning to its "Rip. Mix. Burn" roots. And if so, the also-rans will discover that they don't have such roots to fall back on. I wouldn't go counting Apple out of the game just yet. Nor will I be selling my stock before the holiday numbers are in...

UPDATE: Also note that the iTunes Store, with its razor-thin margins, has never been a profit center for Apple—it exists to sell iPods, as Steve has often happily said. Which just means that the other music stores that don't have iPod sales to draw on are just at that much more of a disadvantage. If iPod sales are up 400%, and people aren't abandoning iTunes in favor of other forms of digital downloads, then Apple has no reason to worry.

They win in an up market, and they win in a down market. It's good to be the Steve.

Pointed out by Damien Del Russo, whose theory suggests to me that a lot of those new iPods are probably being bought as replacements for old iPods, and don't necessarily represent new blood for the iTunes store:

Also, it may be that many people have "enough" music now. Wherever they got it, someone like me, my computer has all the old music I want - now I just buy new stuff. And new stuff is not bought nearly as quickly as when iTunes was new and I had a huge backload of artists I wanted to check out. It's not that it isn't cool, I just already have "most" of what I want. The rush was in attaining that "most" in the first place.

As for movies, you just can't beat the Netflix model. The thing that Netflix needs to do to update their model is allow for downloads instead of mailing DVDs. That is the model though - $18 a month, watch what you want from your queue, and your queue auto-updates after you watch (and confirm deletion). It is funny because it is the OPPOSITE model of what works for music. In short, renting music sucks, renting movies rocks.

I hope Apple comes to realize that, because I'd love to use iTunes for my movie-watching.

UPDATE: Depending on how you slice the numbers, the picture that emerges can vary quite a lot. Blackfriars' Carl Howe posted a rebuttal with graphs, and then an expansion, which only serve to muddle the story. As does Forrester's new response, which essentially says "Whoa, whoa, don't jump to conclusions here".

I still think my suspicions hold, and we pretty much have to wait until Steve breaks out the Keynote slides next month before we know for sure. Though I doubt he'll be calling that much attention to it if the news is bad.

Of course, "bad" is a relative term.


10:40 - Old-time religion

(top)
Reading through this bizarre story on homebuilding kingpin Tom Hignite and his kooky back-porch animation studio, together with the video clips of what it has come up with, I just have to say:

It's almost worth it just to get to see just a few more seconds of nice, crisp, on-ones classic 2D Disney-style feature-grade animation.

Almost.

Even leaving aside the whole "Christian-based" angle, what really weirds me out is how the guy's childlike optimism somehow convinced him that people would respond favorably to transparently, pointlessly derivative concepts like "Miracle Mouse", or that they would ever see the whole effort as anything but a giant publicity stunt for a construction company.

Must be a hell of a trip to live in Wisconsin and see ads like this on TV, though.

Via Cartoon Brew.

Monday, December 11, 2006
10:41 - I read it on the Internet
http://www.thescreamonline.com/essays/essays5-1/vegoil.html

(top)
Apparently canola and corn oil is Bad For You, and coconut/palm oil and lard have been better all along.

But the panel was not unanimous. Dudley White, M.D., disagreed with his AHA colleagues by noting that heart disease in the form of myocardial infarction (MI) was non-existent in 1900, when egg consumption was three times what it was in 1956 and when corn oil was unavailable. When pressed to support the Prudent Diet, White replied, “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921, and I never saw an MI patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think we would all benefit from the kind of diet we had at a time when no one had ever heard the words ‘corn oil.’”

Via the discussion on this topic at Dean's World, regarding the whole New York trans-fats ban. Which you know will only force McDonald's and their fellow perennial public-health boogermen to scurry from what had been their previous safe haven and seek out yet another, which will probably yet again make the food taste worse and turn out to be more unhealthy than the current solution, after another twenty years of research. Then another generation of Morgan Spurlocks will arise to hound them from cover while mocking us for just wanting a damn hamburger, and we'll start the cycle all over again.

When did science get to be so disillusioning, anyway?

UPDATE: On a similar note: now MoveOn.org is freaking out over the 18,000 lost votes in Florida due to an electronic voting machine malfunction. "Paperless elections can't be recounted!" they cry. "Repair our nation's elections!" But not by using, y'know, paper ballots, like with hanging chads and stuff, right?

UPDATE: Odd, too, that stories such as this (via JMH) should fill me with such warm fuzzies.

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© Brian Tiemann