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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Sunday, April 8, 2007
20:36 - Less than a ton of fun

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So this weekend, after much disconsolate wailing and gnashing of teeth over my lack of inherent spontaneity, and after much prodding from a friend who shall remain nameless unless he chooses to identify himself, I rented one of these:



And drove up to visit my folks, up in Mendocino County.



They were both quite entertained by the car, which I hadn't warned them about in advance. And open-top motoring about a wine-country valley is a great conversation starter under any circumstances. So that went very well.

On the way home today, I eschewed the usual freeway (wouldn't you?) and sought out the twistiest of backroads that would carry me back south to the Bay Area.

First order of business was Scotts Valley Road, south from 20 to 29 on Clear Lake:



Virtually free of traffic and humanity, though there were a number of gigantic wild turkeys wandering about the road; a great little farming-and-ranching canyon with modest little creekside curves to get the car warmed up.

Then, south of Lakeport and Kelseyville, on the flanks of volcanic Mt. Konocti, I turned south on Bottle Rock Road, which parallels the more traveled 175 as far as Cobb:



I kept expecting to see a tall rock formation shaped like a bottle or something; but the whole length of the road to its end at Cobb (the little notch you can see in the distance under Cobb Mountain, which hulks over the huge geothermal complex that gives Geyserville its name), the landscape was marked by conical, volcanic hills and ridges that all told the same story as Konocti: that this area had all been part of a weird outlying volcanic system at the far fringes of the Cascades. The road cut through some banks with outcroppings of dark, shiny rock:



... Aaah. "Bottle rock" ... Obsidian. I get it now.

Descending from Cobb on 175:



I got down into the flat valley of Middletown, and the approach was strung with green pastureland with these really cool spreading oak trees:



From Middletown, Highway 29 cuts sharply through the range that forms the eastern wall of the Napa Valley, slipping over a shoulder of Mt. St. Helena, where Robert Louis Stevenson famously had a home for a couple of months (there's now a monument there, which was being very heavily visited today). You can see the mountain in the above aerial shot, and here's a crappy photo:



A better view of Highway 29 that gives you some idea of the twistiness of the road as it wends its way over the ridge and into Calistoga, at the head of the Napa Valley. The Lotus really started feeling its oats here.



I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Calistoga, home of the mineral water and hot springs (all part of the same volcanic system that feeds the geysers and made the obsidian); then set off southward down the Napa Valley, which—despite growing up right around the corner—I'd only been to once, and that when I was about ten years old and unable to really enjoy it. Calistoga is one of those quaint-by-law places where they forbid any roads with more than two lanes or any fast-food franchises from setting foot near the town:



The valley southward. I took the Silverado Trail, which you can see as the road that hugs the left side of the valley as it heads south and a little east.




Typical Napa Valley scene: vertical bluffs frowning over green vineyards.



About halfway down the valley, on my dad's recommendation I cut across to the west side on the Oakville Cross Road:



....And on up the Oakville Grade, which is an even more challenging little black-diamond sort of road, which narrows to a single lane in a few places to traverse ancient bridges or skirt washouts. There were a few intrepid bicyclers on this road, much to my astonishment; and some isolated vineyards at the top of the ridge, which I found equally gasp-worthy. Here's a better overview of the road as it vaults from the Napa Valley to the adjacent Sonoma:



From that point southward it was less scenic and more populated, as the vineyards of the Valley of the Moon gave way to towns like Agua Caliente and then Sonoma, and then I started seeing eucalyptus and cypress trees and smelling that familiar San Francisco/Marin smell. After a few country-road turns (121 and 116) I found myself at the Infineon Raceway at Sears Point, and then on to 37 which took me along the tidal north edge of the Bay across to Vallejo.



And then it was 80 and 680 southward home, as I'd done so many times before. Yet it's oddly different when you're in a car that's so cramped inside that one's foot can't help but span the brake and gas pedals at the same time, there's no dead pedal at the left side (it's fortunate that the clutch pedal is as heavy as it is), and the engine makes a constant, almost undeadened buzzing wail behind you. It's a car where you appreciate the digital readout displaying the engine's temperature—it fluctuates a lot. it's not just a green light that lets you know when the engine is ready to release the rev limiter that keeps you below 6000 (and thus below any of the engine's interesting powerband region) until it's warmed up enough.

And when it is, and you can tap the engine's full potential, it sure gets you moving in a hurry. I didn't time myself or anything, and in a car this high-strung and finicky it was all I could do to keep the wheels pointed in the same direction on those roughly-paved vineyard backroads of my youth; but when they say it does 0-60 in 4.mumble seconds, I'm in no position to argue. The kid who came out to gawk and chat excitedly about it as I filled up the tank for the return journey was surprised to hear about its little 1.8-liter inline-four (the same as you'd find in a Toyota Celica), but since it's power to weight that really matters, and the thing's only got 1900+ pounds to sling around, well... nobody's arguing.

No tickets and no mishaps, but even so it's not the cheapest weekend outing I've ever indulged in. Still, I'm well pleased with the results: I'm feeling a good deal more relaxed than I was. I may be 31 already, but at least I can't say I've never driven a Lotus Elise through the California Wine Country. I do recommend it.

UPDATE: Getting back in my A3 afterwards felt like I was climing into an SUV. It was just like back in 2000 when I stepped out of that rented Ferrari F355 and into my Jetta: the clutch felt like it traveled to Ohio and back, and the engine sounded miles away; and I'd become so used to my eyes being down at door-handle level with the cars around me that suddenly being able to see into other people's faces made me feel like I was perched up on a stagecoach.

Even so, though, the A3's acceleration is nothing to sneeze at—quite respectable, and with a lot less fuss than the Elise. Sure, it won't corner as much like a go-kart, but somehow I don't think I'm going to feel deprived now that I'm back in its posh, leather-swathed, iPod-integrated cockpit. Plus I won't feel like every cop in the world is glaring at me, waiting for me to cough or something.

Thursday, April 5, 2007
01:13 - Someone's looking out for ya
http://daringfireball.net/linked/2007/april#fri-06-ipod_bullet

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Heh. The cliché is usually that it's a Bible in someone's shirt pocket.


18:56 - Le need for ze speed
http://www.autoblog.com/2007/04/04/french-v150-tops-veyron-by-more-than-100-mph/

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This is pretty cool: video of a TGV going 357.2 mph (a new record).

I don't know much French, and what I do know I have trouble understanding spoken; but in the middle it sounds like they're saying something like "This train goes faster than the planes of the Americans". But maybe that's just me hallucinating.

Either way, quite something to see. I wouldn't mind seeing them put one of these alongside the I-5 corridor...


09:01 - It's the content, stupid. Unless it isn't.
http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2007Apr04/0,4670,TechTestAppleTV,00.html

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Here's a weird review of the Apple TV (via JMH) comparing it to the Xbox 360. With a headline like "Apple Appalls Where Xbox Excels", one's eyebrows are perked up from the get-go; but the nutshell version seems to be that the Apple TV beats the crap out of the Xbox by every measure—except the quality of the video sent to the TV.

Apple currently doesn't sell any HD content through iTunes, whereas Microsoft does (or at least it rents it). But apparently even on standard-definition video, the Apple TV's video quality is noticeably worse. The reviewer is skeptical that full-resolution HD content from iTunes will look very good. But what I wonder is, if these are digital devices, how is it that one can look good and the other not? Unfortunately it doesn't seem possible to export an Xbox video to a computer to do a side-by-side comparison with an iTunes-purchased one; so at this point the difference could well be purely in the content, couldn't it?

If that's the case, then this becomes a question of whether iTunes' content is being offered as well as it could be. I've never been particularly overjoyed by the prospect of paying $15 for a gigabyte-sized movie that I own and thus have to find backup space for; in the case of movies, whose replay value is sharply limited compared to music or even TV shows, renting makes a hell of a lot more sense. (And if Microsoft rents HD-grade movies for the Xbox, that's got to take up a lot more space than iTunes movies do—and as the article says, they go onto a hard drive that's half the size of the Apple TV's, although the reviewer then goes on to perplexingly criticize the Apple TV for having a small hard drive.) Apple has been increasing the resolution and quality of its video offerings since it started (they're now twice the size they used to be), but on one or two occasions I've noticed video glitches (such as in the South Park episode "Cat Orgy", which tech support apologized to me for and gave me a free video credit—but not a re-download of a fixed version of that episode, which I thought was rather low-rent of them). Their 640 x whatever widescreen movies clearly have to be upsampled to go to an HD set, and they haven't exactly wowed me with their transfer quality. So it's entirely possible that iTunes content isn't going to look good piped through anything to your TV, and the Apple TV isn't to blame here.

But that's small consolation—because ultimately it's all about the content, and if iTunes isn't prepared to deliver competitive quality, it doesn't matter how slick the interface is. What people want is the same quality as DVD—as indistinguishable from DVD as AAC is from CD—before they're willing to completely switch their media of choice. I hope Apple is reading articles like this and has a competitive analysis lab on campus that's coming to the same conclusions; because the people fiddling with the Apple TV today are early-adopters and video geeks, and they're going to be unforgiving if this solution doesn't purport to meet their needs right out of the box.

I have an Apple TV, though it hasn't yet been set up (waiting for a bunch of component cables); when it has been, I'll be able to do a side-by-side comparison of iTunes TV shows versus the exact same ones on DVD. Movies aren't yet ready for a fair comparison (and I think iTunes' for-purchase model prices me out of the market, frankly), so unless and until Apple decides to rent HD content on the same model as Microsoft does, that will be a more difficult comparison to make. But as of now I'm not surprised if it's less than stellar. Owning a sub-DVD-quality movie versus renting an HD-quality one ain't the intangible value that Steve might think it is.

UPDATE: Jason Snell is much happier with the video quality than the Fox reviewer, apparently.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007
10:50 - Bigger, shinier pony
http://www.macalope.com/2007/04/03/waaaaaah/

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It's EMI/non-DRM naysayer season at the Macalope.

Equally as good as the post itself are the comments, very astute all:

I don’t know whether Steve Jobs wants money or power or recognition or adulation or all of the above or something else entirely. I don’t much care. He certainly doesn’t mean me ill. And he certainly isn’t trying to do me down in some devious way that I’m too stupid to see without the likes of Block or Demerjian to point it out to me. Jobs goes out of his way to try to offer products and services that he knows customers will like, and that suits me.

But read some of the commentators and you’d think you were dealing with some kind of Bond villain.

No kidding.

UPDATE: Oof.


09:39 - How much is that coyote in the window?
http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=5179979

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The video for this story pretty much speaks for itself...



"It did not growl. It did not make any sounds. It just tried to get in. Apparently it was scared and tried to shelter itself," said Ray Zavalas, Quiznos employee.

For 40 minutes, he sat there quite passive -- next to the Gatorade -- a sort of odd celebrity, as dozens of passersby came to see the coyote who came to dinner and take pictures with their cell phones. Imagine what Mr. Coyote thought about all this attention.

City life does keep one on one's toes, I guess...


09:18 - Missing something
http://daringfireball.net/2007/04/google_desktop_installer

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I just have one question: Isn't "Google Desktop for Mac" an oxymoron to begin with?

Wasn't the whole point of Google Desktop to provide an indexing mechanism for an operating system that didn't already have one (namely, Windows)? So you could do content-and-criteria-based searches and make Smart Folders and stuff, all the same features that have been built into Mac OS X via Spotlight for the past year and a half?

(Not that it could ever do it perfectly on Windows; a big problem that Google Desktop had was that because Windows doesn't have Unique File IDs or any other way of addressing files directly and not by path, moving a file from the location where it was when it got indexed causes Google Desktop to lose track of it and return "not found" errors, until you re-index your whole drive. Spotlight gets to serve up files regardless of where you move them to, because it doesn't rely on hard-coded paths in order to locate anything—same as with iTunes, in which it's also a lot harder to lose track of a file that's in the database on the Mac than on Windows.)

What additional value does Google Desktop bring to the Mac? Can someone explain this to me?

Especially since (as Gruber's analysis of Google Desktop's installer behavior seems to indicate) Google Desktop does what it does by hooking into the same background processes (such as mdimport) that support Spotlight's own database in the basic operating system.

When we were kids, my brother and I filmed a reenactment of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, inspired in part by the fact that a friend of his could do a pretty good impression of Pee-Wee's signature laugh. It was a low-tech, ten-year-old production, with no editing, but we had a lot of fun doing it. We acted out and videotaped all the key scenes ourselves, using sofa cushions and Giant Tinkertoys and such as props; but when it came to scenes that required recognizable music, or montages and special-effects clips, we couldn't "improve" on the original movie in any way, or even approximate it—so we just played the movie in the background while we used Legos and Matchbox cars as the subjects under the camera. Even better were the scenes where the best thing we could do was point the camera at the TV and videotape a scene right out of the original movie.

That's what the phrase "Google Desktop for Mac" conjures up in my mind. Are you guys just videotaping the movie that Spotlight is already showing?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007
15:17 - An idea whose time has come
http://trulyawful.blogspot.com/2007/03/toy-molotov-cocktail-you-know-for-kids.html

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What do they teach them at these schools?



At least it's made out of nice safe plastic.

You know, because you wouldn't want to send the wrong message.


14:31 - Theme party
http://www.fresh99.com/mac-penthouse.htm

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Here's someone whose discretionary income is well spent.

So you bring a girl back to your apartment and she notices something out of the ordinary...

you seem to like computers (macintoshes especially) quite a bit...

It's perhaps a little spartan as penthouses go, but provided you bring the right kind of guests over...

Monday, April 2, 2007
09:25 - Cards on the table
http://daringfireball.net/2007/04/emi_drm_free_music

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Wow, that took less time than I'd thought: EMI is on board with the no-DRM thing, and hey, so is Apple after all.

So much for accusations that Jobs was full of shit with his “Thoughts on Music” essay. Clearly, Apple is willing to embrace DRM-free music sales, and they’re not going to wait for all of the major labels to agree before going forward with it.

The fact that this happened so soon after Jobs' essay leads me to wonder whether this deal was already in the works at the time, though. If Jobs didn't have any hope that any of the labels would bend, it seems to me he wouldn't have bothered making his impassioned plea into the wind. But if he was already making headway with EMI, then putting out the essay when he did makes him look prescient—and gives him a few key months of free headway in negotiations with the remaining labels. Now, to them, it looks like EMI jumped at Steve's offer, and now they'll feel like they have to play catch-up; and Steve doesn't have to bother courting them from scratch.

30 cents extra for no DRM and double the quality? And a one-click crossgrade for existing purchases, by adding the 30 cents per song? Sweet. Looks like the database is suddenly becoming a lot more deterministic these last few days, doesn't it? Now, as it turns out, they do know what we've bought after all...

Good show, EMI. I'll be going and finding some stuff to buy just to show moral support.

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