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
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, February 3, 2007
20:40 - Pachelbel's Revenge
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

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This video on YouTube is apparently old news, because it has over a million hits. But I only just now saw it, and... it deserves every last one.

The guy's website is here.


11:21 - You can't learn instinct

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Vista's got an uphill battle to fight. For the first time, a major Windows release is being covered by columns that—without exception—compare it to the Mac. Previous Windows versions could be described in a vacuum, whether on Windows-centric websites or on mainstream media outlets, and the readers would never hear that there's this thing called Mac OS X out there; or if they did, it was as an afterthought, like a tag at the end saying something like "It remains to be seen whether users will prefer this version of Windows or instead move to the competing Mac OS from Apple".

But the Vista coverage—even on MSNBC (via JMH)—is being written by journalists who simply can't ignore Mac OS X, or resist comparing Vista's features to stuff that the Mac has either had for years, is planning to bring out in Leopard, or has stubbornly resisted adding for its own seemingly inscrutable reasons. Love it or disdain it, Mac OS X is now the standard by which Vista is judged, not Windows XP.

Many of the raves about Vista are perfectly legitimate, as are the accompanying criticisms of the Mac: it's neat, for instance, that Windows will make all minimized icons "live" and continue to play in the Taskbar, not just QuickTime movies like on the Mac; I'm not sure how useful that is without Dock-style magnification, but it can't be denied that in the age of Exposé, in which everything is live as you sort through your windows, keeping minimized versions of running apps around as tiny little scaled-down live views instead of static icons ought to be a piece of cake.

I'm unclear on whether windows in the Flip 3D feature are live; it seems like they'd pretty much have to be. But it's a pretty good object lesson, too: Flip 3D is one of the best examples I've ever seen of Windows trying desperately to add a piece of functionality that the Mac has had for years, without making it look like they're blatantly copying it, and in the process managing to make it look better but work not quite as well. I mean, look: if your windows are stacked in a 3D representation, rather than all minimized side-by-side, you still can't see the contents of all windows at the same time, and you have to keep pressing Tab to flip between them. Without Tabbing, you have to rely on the relative sizes of the windows and the appearance of their title bars and edges if you want to pull one out of the stack; whereas with Exposé, there's no gratuitous flash, but there's also no need for Tabbing. you just see which window you want and click on it.

This is what's fascinating to me, though: tech journalists aren't just falling for the flash, like they might have done in the past. They're not saying Flip 3D is better than Exposé. They're saying it's almost as good. Similarly, they're not saying Gadgets are better than Dashboard—they're saying they're similar, and that they kinda prefer how Dashboard (and Yahoo/Google Widgets) work. Because they're not just relying on the Mac's screenshots before making their judgment (like I am, heh). They're basing it on first-hand knowledge... because they've all used the competition now. And in many cases prefer it.

The author of the MSNBC piece frames the whole discussion in an "I prefer Apple's industrial design and general OS atmosphere, so I switched back to the Mac" narrative, so I'm not going to pick his story apart or anything. I think it's interesting to see where he found Vista to be superior, namely in its ability to present more data in-context more effectively, like photo and music icons in Explorer windows. I'm not going to argue with that—we all know the Finder could stand to be improved, never mind the arguments that I would use to defend iPhoto against his criticism that it can't display photos in "folder" views (iPhoto is explicitly supposed to be a complete and unified interface that's divorced from the files-and-folders metaphor entirely, so you don't have to think about what folders your pictures are in—it's designed to operate on new photos you take with a date-stamping camera. if you have a folder full of preexisting images, you can make an album to hold them, just like a folder. But keeping the "folders" metaphor out of iPhoto is meant as a favor to users who don't normally think about dragging photos off their camera and putting them in folders in the first place; if you don't do that, iPhoto is a cleaner and more elegant concept).

Here's what gets me, though. Despite Microsoft's recent spate of petulant claims that all the whiz-bang-go-fast features in Vista and in Mac OS X Tiger were actually Microsoft's ideas and Apple just somehow managed to get them to market cheaperfasterbetter, it seems clear to me that these features in Vista can only have been implemented by people who don't understand what it is they're designing. They know what they have to measure up to, but they don't have new ideas of their own. They can always do more or shinier, but they just don't have the innate sense of why you do something. Case in point being the User Account Control feature described so illustratedly in this InformationWeek article:

With Mac OS X, if I need to make a change to a system setting or install software in a location that I don't have read/write access to, I have to authenticate to perform that action. For example, I want to change my IP address for my wireless connection, and my system is set up to require authentication to do such things. With the details expanded, I have a fair bit of information. First, I have to know the password of an administrator user for that machine. If I don't, then even physical access isn't enough; I can't unlock that preference pane. Second, I know the right it wants me to authorize: system.preferences (although I may not know what that means, it's there at least), and I know which application is requesting that right.

If I attempt to perform the equivalent action in Vista, I don't actually have to "authenticate" anything. There's no need for a password. Anyone sitting at this computer can take this action. What you see for UAC as an administrator is basically a dialog that says, "You want to do this?" I don't get any information about what I'm asked to approve -- all I get is a really long GUID-type number that's of no use whatsoever.

...

That illustrates the three worst aspects of UAC and why I think it's going to be called "User Annoyance Control." You get what is essentially an "OK/Cancel" dialog that most users will hit "OK" for without thinking, you may or may not get useful information as to what is going on, and you get locked out of your system until you deal with this. I have a problem with seeing how annoying people is enhancing security. When I say "annoyance" I really mean "infuriate," because you get UAC dialogs all over the place, and you're never sure when or why you're going to get them.

I hesitate to overuse the term "cargo cult", but sometimes it's just inescapable. What was that line about how those who don't understand UNIX are doomed to reinvent it, poorly?

Vista sure does look pretty... though, really, it is still Windows, so it's not going to do away with any of the classic Windows behaviors and metaphors like the Start Menu or the per-application menus, which frankly makes me just as happy—if modal menus or the Start Menu started being cross-platform workalike features I'd consider it as much of a loss to computing's genetic diversity as if the British and American accents were to converge and strip English of its endearing variability. But it also means that the Windows desktop metaphor is getting pretty fragmented. There's never really been a coherent and obvious path to take through the system—the "start at the top and scan down like you're reading a sheet of paper" thing never really made sense on Windows, and now with the Gadgets stuck to the right and the Flip 3D feature playing havoc with the metaphor of the "desktop", and with apps like IE7 now doing away with the traditional text-based menu bar entirely and replacing it with a few pictographic menus stuck to the right side of the toolbar, Windows has become a metaphor unto itself: rather than trying to emulate anything people are used to in the non-computing world, it's able to just assume people know how a computer works, and take off into the virtuality from there.

I'm unsure how this will impact users. Probably not much. It's all a concession to the reality that however much computing interfaces have sucked in the past, that's what we're used to now, so we'd better make the most of it. It certainly doesn't promise to break any new ground in usability; and as this Time article points out, some of the features that are going to be the most beneficial to users are the mundane ones that should have been implemented right in the first place, like sleep controls. The rest is just kinda ho-hum, especially after you've spent your five minutes playing with the translucency effects and sit down to start actually using the thing on a day-to-day basis.

The journalists reviewing Vista seem to keep coming to the conclusion that while it looks awfully pretty, it doesn't really do much to make computing any better of an experience, and the Mac—whose once-mind-bogglingly-glitzy interface now looks rather austere by comparison—seems to be all about getting down to efficient business and keeping your life in order over the years, whereas Vista jumps up and down trying to get you to pay attention to it, like a wrinkled ex-hipster in disco threads rocking out at a rave. Vista illustrates nothing so much as how less really can be more. I hate to sound like such a partisan, because really I'm glad to see that Microsoft is trying, and a great Vista would mean a greater Mac OS X in the future; but Apple seems to have won over the critical pundit market—which, though it doesn't exactly represent the computing world as a whole, is sure to have a pretty big impact on it. People are seeing in Vista that this is what we've been waiting for all these years, and... it's just kinda "okay, so what next?" I mean, if even the Penny Arcade guys are Vista-doubting Mac people now (you need to catch up), then Windows has been relegated—just like in the ads—to the older generation, the unhip, the workmanlike, the unintentionally nebbishy that tries so hard to be cool that it just embarrasses itself.

Thursday, February 1, 2007
11:21 - Stupid Google Earth Tricks

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Now that I know that you can zoom by right-clicking and dragging (thanks to James in comments)—and more specifically, that you can zoom continuously by right-clicking, dragging, and releasing—I have a new favorite game to play. I call it "Meteorite".

You spin the earth at random, tilt it at some arbitrary angle, and then right-click-drag-release to zoom in slowly—fast enough to be interesting, yet slow enough to give it time to get all the high-res imagery in time. And then... you wait.

Just watch yourself zero in on some randomly chosen spot of earth. Watch the hills, then roads, then towns and buildings, come into focus. Watch all the placemarks crowd into view, then dissipate into the margins. And eventually watch yourself coming in to land at some location you might never otherwise have had occasion to look.

And then you find yourself looking at the neighboring towns and villages in the topography, researching them in Wikipedia, and imagining what would happen to them if an object from space were to come crashing down right where you did.

Argh! Someone save me from this program!


09:03 - I've got a bridge in France to sell you

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Egad:



That's the Millau Viaduct, very recently completed in order to carry a freeway over a river valley in southwestern France.

It's horrible and yet strangely beautiful. And it's also apparently quite near one of the old Roman flying aquaducts, which both would make for a fascinating Star Trek-esque image of the ancient world and the Utopian Future mingled together, and would mean that they're just continuing a millennia-old tradition.

Via this page in the Google Earth message boards showing all the "extreme" points on the Earth, which includes a lot of really cool stuff I'd never heard of before, and many great photos. Mount Thor looks awesome. And now I want to go to Baffin Island.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
17:06 - Good thing I brought my Gorgatron repellent
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070131/ap_on_re_us/suspicious_devices;_ylt=AvwJj3QJDNLK

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Yow. If the Cartoon Network CEO was really "out of town", as the stories covering this debacle suggest, he's gonna have a fun time cleaning house when he gets back. Quite apart from the legal implications of freaking people out over what looked like a bunch of bombs on bridges and subway tunnels, it costs a lot of money to shut down infrastructure and mobilize bomb squads to clear it all up. Turner's gonna be getting a few invoices at the very least.

"The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner said in a statement. It said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

"We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," the company said.

Yyyyyeah. Sorry you misinterpreted these bomb-looking things on bridges as bombs. What are you people, stupid?

Yeesh. Much as I enjoy ATHF, and much as this will likely ramp up public interest in it just as much as the "Booby Traps. Cockpits." billboards for Venture Brothers did a year or two ago, this was a pretty dumb move.

Interestingly, though, it was only ever going to be a successful stunt if it became news. A bunch of Lite-Brite pictures of Inignokt and Err? How is some random person driving through the subway and seeing that weird image going to make the mental leap to "Oh, that looks like a show I'll want to watch tonight at midnight"? The only way this could drum up any new viewership is if news agencies picked it up and explained what the images were supposed to be and how to link it to your TV. So in other words, they were banking on the stunt blowing up in their faces. Apparently.

That said: the guys at Cartoon Brew are understandably peeved at Cartoon Network lately for padding its lineup with live-action and almost-live-action material, and so their take on the incident isn't that unexpected:

It seems quite appropriate that the bomb squad would have to be called out to dispose of an Adult Swim series.

Ouch. Now, that would be fair if this were a stunt for 12 oz. Mouse or Perfect Hair Forever or Stroker & Hoop or something. But ATHF is one of the anchor shows that's actually been consistently funny and successful in the post-Brak age. I still have my doubts about stuff like Frisky Dingo and Metalocalypse and Squidbillies, and the confrontational and tendentious entries like Moral Orel and The Boondocks are too tiresome to sit through. But c'mon, guys: ATHF is the bomb.


11:03 - By the book

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Sometimes you just gotta laugh. The following is a piece of an e-mail my dad sent me updating me on current events back in my hometown.

By the way, a sidebar about the DA election in Mendocino County is that we are having another election because the last one was invalidated. We had a primary last June among 3 candidates and the woman who won didn't get 50% of the vote, so they had a run-off election between her and the second place guy, the incumbent. In the meantime, the incumbent had a heart attack and died. The county wanted to go ahead and have the election involving the dead man and would appoint a successor if the dead guy won. However, the deputy DA filed a protest with the State Appeals Court to have the election invalidated so there could be another election in which he could run. The court agreed with him, but couldn't make the decision in time to stop the election. So, they had the election between the woman winner and the dead guy, but the results were ordered sealed before they were tallied. Now we are having another election in which Bert Schlosser has joined the deputy DA and the woman. Mind you, it hasn't been decided yet whether the winner of the latest election will be the DA if he/she doesn't get 50% of the vote. In that case, we may have a fourth election. You should also realize that the woman candidate is funding her third campaign while everyone else is funding only one. Of course, that presumes that the dead guy didn't pour much money into his second campaign. I just thought you might enjoy some typical Mendocino County politics....

This is what we like to refer to as "Western Democracy". Ain't it great?


09:56 - Help On the Way for Google Earthenoids
http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php/Cat/0/Number/776811/page/0/vc/1

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This will only be of interest to those people whose souls, like mine, are pledged eternally at the altar of Google Earth. (Every day I'm reminded that such people are inexplicably few; on a ski trip this past weekend, the friends in the car were all talking about the Internet resources that suck up all their time—Wikipedia, Second Life, etc. When I mentioned Google Earth, they sort of looked at me blankly and said they'd never really found it useful. Useful? Useful?! Are you kidding me? High-res overflight-type views of any place on the entire planet, with overlaid roads and labels and placemarks linking you to Wikipedia pages so you can research the history of any town or place you run into while following along with a road trip journal or a travelogue or a historical novel, and it's not useful?! Haven't you ever wanted to follow the headwaters of the Missouri River up Hell Roaring Canyon up to the peak on the Continental Divide on the Idaho/Montana border where it begins? Gaah! What is wrong with you people?)

...Anyway. Aside from wonky interface issues, one big problem that Google Earth 4 has (versus 3) is that it's very, very slow. Whereas GE3 on my dual G5 is smooth as butter no matter how rugged the terrain you're looking at, GE4 is stuttery and laggy. Everybody's been noticing this, and posting on the Keyhole BBS to that effect, but having very little luck getting anyone at Google to acknowledge it.

Well, finally we get signal:

This is a known problem with GE 4/Mac, and is due to a problem with the MacOS X kernel. The problem has been reported to Apple and is fixed in 10.5 (Leopard). Intel Macs running 10.4.8 have been reported to work as well.

The root cause is that minor changes in graphics access patterns can have disproportionately large impacts on performance. GE 3 "got lucky" in that it avoided triggering the problem most of the time (but not all), however the GE 4 renderer is significantly different internally and reveals the issue more often.

We are investigating workarounds for PPC Macs, however the underlying fault is in code outside our control. For now we recommend sticking with GE 3 if you are affected.

Hooray! I can totally wait for Leopard if that's what's got to happen. Certainly it'd be less expensive than buying, like, a new Mac Pro (or a PC) just for my Google Earthing...


09:05 - Protest first, ask questions later

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An art site I run features an announcement board where members (mostly teenage girls) can post bulletins about their lives, their art, or whatever. Imagine my amusement to see this one this morning:
Save the wolves!!!
Bush proposes a lift on the protection of wolves in Idaho and Wyoming. A recent bill allowed unlimited killings in some states. Take action!!

http://action.defenders.org/rockymountainoutrage2

I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise to anybody that if you follow the link, you find that Bush doesn't have a thing to do with this—it's a decision by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and the Fish and Wildlife Service. But hey, Bush is a magic word for riling people up; works like a charm. Everyone knows he just sits around in his office rubbing his stupid hands together and dreaming up new ways to kill cute and peaceful things.

A little research would seem to be the enemy of effective outrage:

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne today signed a Memorandum of Agreement transferring most of the responsibility for managing gray wolves in central Idaho from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state wildlife officials.

The agreement covers the management of the experimental, non-essential population of gray wolves south of Interstate 90, an area that encompasses most of the state. Wolves north of Interstate 90 are protected under the Endangered Species Act as an endangered species. The Service is completing the application process for a permit to allow the state to manage wolves in the Idaho Panhandle north of Interstate 90.

Populations of wolves in Idaho have flourished since the Service introduced them in the state in 1995. In 2004, there were at least 422 wolves in Idaho, including 27 breeding pairs, nearly three times the recovery goal.

Idaho will manage the species in accordance with a conservation and management plan developed by the state and approved by the Service in anticipation of removal of wolves in the northern Rockies from the list of threatened and endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“Wolves have thrived in Idaho far above expectations,” Secretary Norton said. “We’ve reached the point biologically where management should be turned over to the state, which is in the best interest of both the wolves and the citizens of Idaho who live near them.”

Now, to be sure, there's still some cause to be concerned:

Stone says Defenders is concerned that Idaho would be more agressive in killing wolves in the state, and the Wyoming plan has not even been accepted.

"Defenders of Wildlife supports enlisting the help of the states with wolf management where appropriate, but the federal government is poised to hand virtually all responsibility to a state that has essentially vowed to destroy the wolf. It is a recipe for disaster," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen in January when Idaho assumed management of its wolf population.

"Idaho's wolf management plan to shoot first and ask questions later could jeopardize the future of the wolf in the region. We believe this action is blatantly illegal and are exploring options for stopping it in court," Schlickeisen said.

... But I just find it hilarious how as simplified as the protest site's argument is, that wasn't simplified enough for the people trying to drum up support for it. Gotta throw in the magic four-letter word that makes people's brains turn off. Quick! Take action! Click through and send in the pre-wrapped letter of someone else's outrage! And whatever you do, for God's sake, don't stop to consider both sides of the issue!

UPDATE: The protest site claims that Dirk Kempthorne is the U.S. Interior Secretary, but the "research" I linked to said he's the Governor of Idaho. They're both right; he went straight from the governorship to the SecInt position by appointment. Which leads to interesting questions of whether this wolf-control deal was interrelated with the appointment... but hey, that's crazy talk. (Since, after all, the deal took place before Kempthorne moved to Washington, not after.) And I still don't know enough about this to really be entitled to an opinion. But I'll wager I know more than most of the people sending in their protest form letters.

Monday, January 29, 2007
15:38 - Clone Wars
http://www.hawkwings.net/2007/01/27/microsoft-green-with-apple-envy/

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Boy, I just can't pass this one up. More internal Microsoft e-mails showing the developers scrambling around in response to experiencing Tiger for, apparently, the first time.

Read the linked PDF. It's a great belly laugh.

I just love how the engineers keep calling Tiger's features "clones" and "ripoffs" of stuff they were planning for Longhorn/Vista, and then they go on to rave about how great they are in Tiger and how much better polished—and, for that matter, complete and operational—Apple got them after cribbing them from Microsoft.

Know what it reminds me of?

Ignignokt: (questioning Frylock's lasers) What was that?
Err: Whoa, did those just come out of your eyes?
Ignignokt: They're primitive.
Err: Damn those are fast, man!
Ignignokt: We are not impressed.
Err: They weren't that cool.

Via Daring Fireball.
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© Brian Tiemann