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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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, March 21, 2008
14:43 - Mad drivin skillz
http://www.autoblog.com/2008/03/21/autoline-on-autoblog-with-john-mcelroy/

(top)
John McElroy on safety standards in the US:

When I was growing up as a kid, cars didn't have a whiff of safety equipment. No seatbelts. No headrests. No collapsible steering columns. No nothing. On long trips my dad would even let me or one of my brothers lie on the package shelf behind the back seat. And we weren't the only ones. That was a pretty common practice back then.

Even so, up through the 1960s, the United States had the best traffic safety record in the world. But as the population continued to grow and as more cars appeared on the roads, the fatality rate grew with them. And so the government began enacting safety standards.

And boy, did we pile on the regulations. Today, the U.S. has more safety laws and by far the strictest ones of any country. And yet we've dropped to 16th place in the global rankings. What's going on here? How come countries with weaker regulations are getting better results?

His thesis is that seat belts are really about the only thing making the bulk of difference, and seat belt laws are more strictly enforced elsewhere; but some commenters take a dissenting view, e.g.:

It's not about enforcing seat belt use at all.

In Europe, a driver's license is more that a glorified ID card; it actually means that you have mastered some important skills, and have passed an actual test, one that is hard to pass. Driving is a privilege, and a valued skill.

This mindset then makes people take driving seriously.

The most important safety measure that could come about in the US is politicians growing a pair and having the political will to enforce higher standards for driving skills.

I could get safely behind that.



09:02 - Our betters are socialist pricks
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westinghouse_Time_Capsules

(top)
It's amazing, the things you'll find randomly clicking around on Wikipedia. Here's something on the Westinghouse Time Capsules, buried in the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs in Flushing Meadows Park. They were sealed for 5000 years, along with instructions for how to decipher and reproduce the written and spoken English on many of the items inside.

One thing really took a whack at me, though. They stuck in some quotations for posterity from contemporary luminaries, and here's Albert Einstein's, which I'd just love to see anyone try to put on any kind of public work today:

Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilise power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves. However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganised so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything. Further more, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason any one who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce some thing valuable for the community. I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.

Dude. Don't have to be an ass about it.



08:16 - Venus Usertrap

(top)
I just discovered an unpleasant and, apparently, long-standing bug in OS X. It allows you to rename your Home folder, right in the Finder.

It happens in the Sidebar. You open it up, right-click on the home folder name (which is the same as your "short name", the Unixy sanitized alphanumeric-string version of your real name), and among other options, it gives you a "Rename" option. Which works.



After which, naturally, your applications that depend on finding files at a specific path in your home folder, can't—and they break.

Now, allegedly they fixed this in 10.5.1. Or so I am told. But a co-worker of mine just fell into the following trap: She noticed that her home folder (in her sidebar) had the name of someone else, someone who had originally set up the computer and passed it over to her. She'd already changed her full name in the Accounts Preferences, but while Tiger (which she's using) prevents you from arbitrarily changing your "short name" (like any good Unix should), the Finder giddily gives you not only the options shown above, but also a bunch of other Finderesque options, like Automator actions, Folder Actions, and everything else you get if you right-click on a file somewhere in a Finder window. So, reasonably, she changed the folder's name, and then was surprised to find that Mail had frozen. When she restarted it, it started prompting her to go through the initial setup wizard again.

I quickly discovered the problem (it's way easier when they volunteer helpful tidbits like "I just renamed my account; you think that might have had anything to do with it?"), but was also floored by the presence of what appeared to be a huge bug in OS X: you simply shouldn't be allowed to do things like that. And indeed, in my poking around, I heard that this bug is indeed well known, and that 10.5.1 was supposed to have fixed it.

And it did... sort of.

It fixed it only in Column View.

I experimented a little and found that if you right-click on your Home folder in the sidebar while your Finder window is in Column View, the "Rename" option isn't there. But in Icon, List, or Cover Flow view, it's still available, and still (presumably) works.

Know what I think happened? I think Apple is still in the grip of NeXT-heads. People making the decisions on these sorts of things are so NeXT-oriented in their thinking that Column View is the only view they ever use. Indeed, many OS X converts or long-time users are probably like that, never having used NeXT but spending all their time in Column View; I know I'm one of them. And if I'd never thought to try other views (like the ones my co-worker uses), I'd never have noticed that this bug still remains active and ready to ensnare a great many people, who quite understandably might want to change the name on a folder they see in every single Finder window that always reminds them of the person who originally set up the computer and not themselves. There's no reason for them to expect that a simple renaming of a folder might ruin their whole computing environment, but it's bound to happen sooner or later.

In a side note, this knowledge-base article attempts to describe the proper way to change your Home folder's name—short answer, "create a new account, move everything over, chown it to the new user, and delete the old one", just like in any Unix—but check out the wacky informal language:

Mac OS X does not allow you to easily change a user's short name, and earlier versions do not allow you to change your Home folder name. Though you can change your Home name in v10.3 or later, you usually shouldn't. If you really need to change these names (which should match), use the procedure described below.

The article is also way out of date (10.3.9). Plus it seems to kindasorta suggest that this is the intended behavior (though evidently they changed their mind later, or something). Still, it's much better that a user finds himself reading it than a Finder menu that happily lets you just rename the folder. For now I guess we just have to hope lots of people use Column View...



07:52 - Protection money
http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/21/sony-hates-you-offers-50-fresh-start-option-to-bu

(top)
Mark sends this story of Sony's latest innovation: a price tag on crapware infestations.

Sony has quite the history of crippling excellent, beautiful hardware with horrible, useless software. The company's UX UMPC bluescreened on us the first time we turned it on, and crashed the first time we tried to shut it down thanks to all the bloatware on it, while a Laptop Mag review says their Vaio TZ ran "as if it were broken" before they managed to wipe it clean. Lucky for us, it appears Sony is finally seeing the error of its ways, but instead of removing the crapware altogether, Sony has the nerve to offer a $50 "Fresh Start" option, which "scrubs" the machine clean before shipping it your way.

Mark's idea: "I think it's time to start adding another $50 to the PC cost in every MacBook/PC Laptop comparison that involves price."


Thursday, March 20, 2008
20:12 - Stuff falling out of the sky

(top)
Weather. This place sure does have a lot of it.

Just looking at the Dashboard widgets for the weather here, I find icons for weather phenomena I can't even identify. Something with horizontal blurry lines kept cropping up, something mystifying. After a while I figured out that it was wind.

Today it was windy... like, windy as hell. Rip-through-jacketingly windy. Blow-the-lids-off-garbage-cans, knock-traffic-lights-off-those-little-clotheslines-strung-across-the-intersections windy. And cold... cold enough that come 10:30 at night, some gathering clouds started dumping snow.

It probably won't stick tonight, but it'll be close—and it just goes to show me that at a time of year when I'm used to all but considering summer to be here (Silicon Valley's been having 60-70 degree sunshine for the past two weeks straight), out here on this side of things it's still thoroughly winter.

I never really could quite grok how wintery climates worked, when I was growing up. Cartoons showing kids sledding and skating on frozen lakes gave me to believe that in large areas of the country, the world is frozen white for months at a time, and you don't see a leaf or a blade of grass until sometime in April. That's not quite what it's like here. When I arrived, it had just dumped a few inches on the ground, and the landscape into which my plane descended was a real Winter Wonderland, complete with a frozen Hudson River:



But only a day or so later there was no trace of the snow, and daytime temperatures were well into the 40s. A far cry from the "it never gets above freezing" sort of atmosphere I was grimly expecting. But then, the weekend after my first week here, a rainstorm of epic proportions—or, well, what would be epic in California—came washing through, and turned the creek out back behind the house:



...Into this:



Another view of what it looks like normally (note the concrete flat part, which was even with the water level, and the vertical stick in the ground off to the right, which marked the highest rise):



Neat, huh? About 18 inches up. (Note the smaller gully off to the left in the flooded photos, turning the backyard into a swamp.) It would have had to rise another three feet or so to start threatening the house, and in that event we'd have more pressing things to worry about anyway, like trying to get to the nearest planetary evacuation pod, so no worries there. But still, it was quite something to see.

Again, I don't expect tonight's little flurry to amount to anything. But it's a firm reminder to me that only about seven or eight thousand people warned me about this. And I DIDN'T LISTEN! I DIDN'T LISTEEEEN!

And I'm okay with that.



13:28 - A little cheese and whynot

(top)
I've been ordering sporadically from Murray's Cheese for some months now, after an article in AAA's Via magazine prompted me to look up Burrata di Andria and order some from whatever distant land would deliver some to me. Turns out that the place to go for such things is in Greenwich Village, which despite being of nationwide renown, seems to be unknown even to many locals.

I discovered this not through speculation or grapevinery, but first-hand. By which I mean that now that I'm in the general vicinity, and knowing that Murray's offers a regular schedule of classes in cheese, wine, bread, pizza, beer, and the various gastronomic combinations of any and all of these, and discovering that they'd added a class called "Chocolatiering 101" to the lineup, I figured it was time to make a pilgrimage.

The class was run by Alisha Lumea of CocoaVino, a local chocolate shop whose "Drunken Figs" are already featured front-and-center at Murray's. I came into the room and found a U-shaped aggregation of tables with about twenty place settings, in front of each of which was a glass of champagne and another of Merlot, a basket of fruity bread, some chunky unsalted butter, and a tray of four items that I'm told are part of every cheese tasting and class at Murray's: walnut halves, dried tart Montmorency cherries, dried apricots, and Marcona almonds in olive oil. (For the record, I am going to have to submit that the Marcona with one of the dried cherries is giving a run for its money to Blue Diamond Smokehouse + Dill Pickle as my favorite almond-based flavor combination of all time.)

They also passsed out dishes each bearing three small items: one of each of the two kinds of Persephone bonbons (a lemon-and-caramel one and a lavender one), and one of these weird fig truffles based on olive oil. (Olive oil? Yes, olive oil.) The effect of the latter was a chunk of chocolate that was full of crunchy little fig seeds and yet spreadable like cream cheese, which we proceeded to do on wedges of loud and assertive blue cheese that were passed around. That was the unique focus of this evening: a chocolate that goes well with cheese. Not all that far out there, actually, when you think about it—but when we're talking about such wild-n-crazy flavors as blue cheese and fig truffles, it had all kinds of ways things could have gone wrong. But oddly enough, it didn't, and—as long as you put on enough of the truffle to counterbalance the strong flavor of the cheese—the combination was really quite awesome.

Then we all lined up and rolled our own truffles using the same ganache as goes into the lavender bonbons they make; finished off with cocoa powder and dropped in a tin, they made a nice take-home item for each of us.



The class was, naturally, full—and apparently a lot of the attendees come to as many of these things as they can fit in. Yet the general feeling was that even among the locals who have lived in New York for the better parts of their lives and have never owned a car, discovering this tiny place near the end of Bleecker Street was a complete surprise. It was certainly a bombshell for everyone to hear about me and my recent removal here from California, and that I apparently knew more about the place—and, indeed, had more experience with truffle-making, especially the "what not to do" aspects of it—than many others there. I have an awful habit of trying to out-teach the teacher in things like this (my parents no doubt recall mortifying experiences involving me as a ten-year-old in front of any of a hundred tour groups asking the guide question after question), and I did my best to keep myself in check, but it was a challenge to say the least. (As is perhaps to be expected, a lot of the speaker's focus was on organic ingredients and fair-trade growing practices, and while I certainly can agree that it often makes things taste better, it's a shame to have to ignore whole swathes of the brand landscape just because your criteria are so limiting.) But by the end of the evening I'd made a few acquaintances from the area, faces I'll probably see again if I go back for another round.

Which I most certainly will. There's something about being no more than a couple of blocks from the subway at any given time that makes one willing to change a whole evening's schedule on a whim. Knowing that I don't have to worry about where my car is, and that I can get on a train pretty much any time and get pretty much anywhere, is a pretty liberating feeling.

I just might be taking advantage of it from time to time. Pizza classes? Goat cheese classes? Chocolate from bean to bar classes? Geez, at $50 for a two-hour chunk of time, it's a no-brainer...



12:42 - News Flash: Modern Equipment Required to Support Modern Technology
http://www.popsci.com/grouse/article/2008-03/itunes-not-ready-primetime

(top)
Well, yeah, HD movie streaming is going to suck if you use eight-year-old machinery for it, you Nerfball:

Now, I don’t own an Apple TV, and my desktop Mac is far from my living room TV, where I’d want to watch a movie with my wife. So, I broke out my old G4 Titanium laptop so that I could download a movie to it and then plug it into my TV and home stereo for a more cinema-style feel. My G4 warhorse is dated for sure, but it still runs fine, has 1.5 gigs of RAM, a reasonable graphics card and I had used it to edit a feature length film using Final Cut Pro, so it should be fine with any video issues. I figured all I’d need to do was update my iTunes and Quicktime software.

...

Smug with satisfaction at showing my wife how great this new tech was, I hit play, sat back on the couch, and my wife and I proceeded to watch with growing, wincing puzzlement what can best be described as a flipbook version of Jason Bourne kicking Russian ass. His fluid mixed-martial arts were reduced to a strobelight Vogueing dance. Between the choppy video and the fast-paced action and editing, it was simply unwatchable.

...

Feeling a little MacGuyver-like, I decided I would pop the movie on my year-old video iPod then plug that into my TV. Since it was synced with my desktop Mac I reassigned it to my laptop, set it up for movie syncing and nodded to the wife,“Five minutes babe—just gotta transfer the file. No worries.”

Only nothing happened. Checked my cables, checked my settings. Wiped the beads of sweat from my brow and forced a smile to my patient wife on the couch. Went online to Apple’s support message boards: Clickety-clack, come on guys, what’s going on here… and a little helpful info later, found out movie rentals only work with iPods from 2008. Yes, my-less-than-a-year-old iPod is too old and stupid to run movie rentals, it seems. Dandy.

And why is it that nobody on Earth knows how to spell "MacGyver"?



11:55 - Hell of a way to wake up
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,339270,00.html

(top)
That's got to be one of the world's greatest headlines right there:
Woman Goes for Leg Operation, Gets New Anus Instead

"Who's the donor, Terrance?"
"I am, Philip. I am."

Via Lance, as though that were in doubt.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008
21:10 - To keep and bear fire extinguishers
http://www.metro.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=115014&in_page_id=34

(top)
Via Lance, whose verdict is "England has been lost":

Fire extinguishers could be removed from communal areas in flats throughout the country because they are a safety hazard, it has emerged.

The life-saving devices encourage untrained people to fight a fire rather than leave the building, risk assessors in Bournemouth decided.

...

But Mike Edwards, who lives in one of the blocks, said he was 'absolutely staggered' that risk experts thought it a safe decision.

'They are worried we will point them in the wrong direction or use the wrong extinguishers,' he said. 'But if you are trapped in a burning building, you will work out how to use one.'

Maybe you're supposed to curl up and adopt a passive posture and the fire will leave you alone.

The 61-year-old claimed his neighbours were now worried sick that a fire could break out.

Dorset Fire and Rescue defended the move, saying: 'Obviously, in some cases, an extinguisher could come in useful but, with new building regulations, every escape route should be completely fireproof.'

How do people even say things like this with a straight face anymore? Hey, better close those watertight doors!


13:48 - Will wonders never cease

(top)
The California DMV has a phone-menu system to beat all phone-menu systems. You can call it at 1-800-777-0133, though I don't recommend it. It starts like this:

"Thank you for calling the Department of Motor Vehicles. For English, press 1. Para español..."

That's where its resemblance to a normal earthly phone menu system ends. From then on, every passing second diverges more and more bizarrely into the realm of the otherworldly.

"Office hours for most DMV offices have changed. You can check the hours for blah blah blah. You can make appointments by calling this toll-free number or this website URL, which I will now read painstakingly and slowly, and then repeat. You are now two minutes into the call."

At this point you're thinking, "Registration... registration... registration...." just waiting for them to give you some menu option that has the word "registration" in it so you can stab a button, but one that doesn't have the word "information" in it which entails a recorded message and no person waiting at the other end. Alas, that's not in the offing, as a man's voice comes on and says:

"For office locations or to make an appointment, press 1.
For driver license or identification cards, press 2.
For vehicle or watercraft, press 3."

I guess option 3 is the one I wanted, but I've been thrown off at this point by "watercraft" and by the assumption that they'll actually use the word "registration" at some point, which is complicated by the next curveball, which is the point at which my brain starts to sweat and try to loosen its collar: A different person, a woman, cuts in here and reads the next few items:

"For information regarding recent vehicle liability insurance changes, press 61.
For information regarding the New Carbuyer's Bill of Rights, press 62."

Then the woman hands the mike back to some other man, who reads the next couple of options:

"For information regarding the online notice of release of liability, press 63.
For information regarding the change of address online, press 64."

Then they hand it off to another woman, while I contemplate cheerful thoughts like driving an unregistered car and/or committing seppuku:

"For information regarding the DMV and Donate Life California organ donor and tissue registry, press 65.
For information regarding the single-state registration system and the Unified Carrier Registration Act, press 66."

At last the original man's voice picks it back up again, the menu-making party evidently over, and offers:

"To repeat this menu, press #. To transfer to an agent, press 0."

Aha! Zero! You press zero. And... you get an immediate "All our agents are busy" message, after which you are sent back to the beginning of the whole three-minute long menu. "For office locations or to make an appointment, press 1." This continues ad nauseam.

At least, it continues until you discover that by just mashing 0 over and over as soon as the menu restarts, you can keep making it check for agent availability without having to wait through all three minutes of offers of recordings about weird paperwork reduction acts and organ donation programs. After four or five tries, I actually got through to someone.

In fact, it was someone who sounded funny and youthful and intelligent. I hope she finds a better job before she turns into Patty and/or Selma. Or before they recruit her to record another few options for the phone menu system.



11:25 - There he goes again
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2276126,00.asp

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It's John C. Dvorak, rousing the rabble again with another poorly reasoned piece of claptrap:

One of my favorites is the movement toward cheap, Chinese-made compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). These things do save energy, but at what cost to the environment? They are loaded with mercury, which I can assure you will end up in landfills leaching mercury into the water and fish that the greeners so dearly love. Seldom will these lightbulbs be "disposed of properly." Exactly what does that mean, anyway? Who do you call? The mercury-removal company? To most people, "dispose of properly" means throw it in the recycle bin, where it will get busted up and contaminate everything in the bin.

One specious argument says that using CFLs will reduce the need for electricity, thus reducing the mercury from coal-powered electric plants for a net mercury loss. In fact, people will just keep these lights on all over the place. When has anything taming the overall demand for electricity resulted in burning less coal? We wouldn't need CFLs if we just turned off the blasted lights!

Wait a minute. Did I say "poorly reasoned piece of claptrap"? Must have been a reflex. This is one of the sanest things he's ever written.



07:53 - Sometimes things improve when I'm not looking

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It's been quite some time since I looked at the design for the Freedom Tower. Last I saw, it was a twisty, wispy thing with chopped-off facets and off-center spires that made it look like some kind of gnarled tree clinging to a boulder. My reaction was pretty much the same as Donald Trump's, who proposed his own plan to essentially rebuild the WTC much the way it used to look. Knowing that that plan was about as likely to carry water with the Port Authority and Silverstein as an online petition to force Disney to produce a movie about the Holocaust, I resigned myself more or less to the idea of that big hole in the ground being filled eventually by what looked like nothing so much as a giant pile of leftovers from the destruction of Krypton.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the current design—having been through quite a few revisions in response to public outcry—is a whole lot better. Tasteful. Symmetrical. Tall, too:

The World Trade Center's North Tower featured an occupied floor at 1,355 feet (413 m). Though not occupied by office space, Freedom Tower's observation deck is set to be higher, at about 1,362 feet (415 m).[citation needed] Currently, only the Sears Tower and Taipei 101 have occupied floors higher than Freedom Tower.

Not the tallest, though, to be sure: I mean, holy crap. Still, way better than the early designs, whose only claim to being "tall" at all was due to the big cage of empty steel cobwebbing Elmer's-glued to the top.

Still, though: this is a heartening development, and I look forward to following the progress of the construction, now that we appear to have entered a new era of skyscraper one-upmanship. I can think of worse ways to spend a recession.

The things I miss out on when I'm not paying attention. I should point my camera upward more.



05:33 - All a man needs is an idea
http://www.nomoreabandonedcarts.com/

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It's fascinating to me how some people can take an idea that must have seemed worth a smirk and a chuckle one evening among friends under the best of conditions, and parlay it into a full-fledged, interactive, dynamic site/community like this one: No More Abandoned Shopping Carts.

Via Chris.


Monday, March 17, 2008
07:29 - Look out, Itchy! He's Irish!

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Okay, I should have guessed something was up when I saw the train station this morning overrun by boisterous youths yelling raucously across the parking lot, urging each other to make the train, and not being able to figure out the ticketing machines or the fare system, rather than the usually stolid, hunched cluster of businesslike commuters this Monday morning. (Heh. "Usually", I say, after like a week of this. Already I'm developing a disdain for tourists. Hey, better take a picture of those tall buildings around you! Point that camera up at the sky! You totally don't look conspicuous!)

But when I got to Secaucus, that's when I noticed that the crowds in general were about three times the normal size, much younger, and all talking and laughing animatedly, and wearing lots of green and with little shamrock stickers on their cheeks and — oh. Right.


There are things one is just not prepared for in the New York lifestyle, and one is that St. Patrick's Day is huge here, which of course now I realize in retrospect should have been obvious. But in Silicon Valley it's just another day.


... Oh, and on the street people were handing out free copies of the New York Post, and they were actually yelling "Read all about it!" Surreal to say the least.


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© Brian Tiemann