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:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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 3/21/2005 -  3/27/2005
 3/14/2005 -  3/20/2005
  3/7/2005 -  3/13/2005
 2/28/2005 -   3/6/2005
 2/21/2005 -  2/27/2005
 2/14/2005 -  2/20/2005
  2/7/2005 -  2/13/2005
 1/31/2005 -   2/6/2005
 1/24/2005 -  1/30/2005
 1/17/2005 -  1/23/2005
 1/10/2005 -  1/16/2005
  1/3/2005 -   1/9/2005
12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
 11/8/2004 - 11/14/2004
 11/1/2004 -  11/7/2004
10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
 10/4/2004 - 10/10/2004
 9/27/2004 -  10/3/2004
 9/20/2004 -  9/26/2004
 9/13/2004 -  9/19/2004
  9/6/2004 -  9/12/2004
 8/30/2004 -   9/5/2004
 8/23/2004 -  8/29/2004
 8/16/2004 -  8/22/2004
  8/9/2004 -  8/15/2004
  8/2/2004 -   8/8/2004
 7/26/2004 -   8/1/2004
 7/19/2004 -  7/25/2004
 7/12/2004 -  7/18/2004
  7/5/2004 -  7/11/2004
 6/28/2004 -   7/4/2004
 6/21/2004 -  6/27/2004
 6/14/2004 -  6/20/2004
  6/7/2004 -  6/13/2004
 5/31/2004 -   6/6/2004
 5/24/2004 -  5/30/2004
 5/17/2004 -  5/23/2004
 5/10/2004 -  5/16/2004
  5/3/2004 -   5/9/2004
 4/26/2004 -   5/2/2004
 4/19/2004 -  4/25/2004
 4/12/2004 -  4/18/2004
  4/5/2004 -  4/11/2004
 3/29/2004 -   4/4/2004
 3/22/2004 -  3/28/2004
 3/15/2004 -  3/21/2004
  3/8/2004 -  3/14/2004
  3/1/2004 -   3/7/2004
 2/23/2004 -  2/29/2004
 2/16/2004 -  2/22/2004
  2/9/2004 -  2/15/2004
  2/2/2004 -   2/8/2004
 1/26/2004 -   2/1/2004
 1/19/2004 -  1/25/2004
 1/12/2004 -  1/18/2004
  1/5/2004 -  1/11/2004
12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
 12/8/2003 - 12/14/2003
 12/1/2003 -  12/7/2003
11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
 11/3/2003 -  11/9/2003
10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
 10/6/2003 - 10/12/2003
 9/29/2003 -  10/5/2003
 9/22/2003 -  9/28/2003
 9/15/2003 -  9/21/2003
  9/8/2003 -  9/14/2003
  9/1/2003 -   9/7/2003
 8/25/2003 -  8/31/2003
 8/18/2003 -  8/24/2003
 8/11/2003 -  8/17/2003
  8/4/2003 -  8/10/2003
 7/28/2003 -   8/3/2003
 7/21/2003 -  7/27/2003
 7/14/2003 -  7/20/2003
  7/7/2003 -  7/13/2003
 6/30/2003 -   7/6/2003
 6/23/2003 -  6/29/2003
 6/16/2003 -  6/22/2003
  6/9/2003 -  6/15/2003
  6/2/2003 -   6/8/2003
 5/26/2003 -   6/1/2003
 5/19/2003 -  5/25/2003
 5/12/2003 -  5/18/2003
  5/5/2003 -  5/11/2003
 4/28/2003 -   5/4/2003
 4/21/2003 -  4/27/2003
 4/14/2003 -  4/20/2003
  4/7/2003 -  4/13/2003
 3/31/2003 -   4/6/2003
 3/24/2003 -  3/30/2003
 3/17/2003 -  3/23/2003
 3/10/2003 -  3/16/2003
  3/3/2003 -   3/9/2003
 2/24/2003 -   3/2/2003
 2/17/2003 -  2/23/2003
 2/10/2003 -  2/16/2003
  2/3/2003 -   2/9/2003
 1/27/2003 -   2/2/2003
 1/20/2003 -  1/26/2003
 1/13/2003 -  1/19/2003
  1/6/2003 -  1/12/2003
12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
 12/9/2002 - 12/15/2002
 12/2/2002 -  12/8/2002
11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
 11/4/2002 - 11/10/2002
10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
 10/7/2002 - 10/13/2002
 9/30/2002 -  10/6/2002
 9/23/2002 -  9/29/2002
 9/16/2002 -  9/22/2002
  9/9/2002 -  9/15/2002
  9/2/2002 -   9/8/2002
 8/26/2002 -   9/1/2002
 8/19/2002 -  8/25/2002
 8/12/2002 -  8/18/2002
  8/5/2002 -  8/11/2002
 7/29/2002 -   8/4/2002
 7/22/2002 -  7/28/2002
 7/15/2002 -  7/21/2002
  7/8/2002 -  7/14/2002
  7/1/2002 -   7/7/2002
 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
 6/17/2002 -  6/23/2002
 6/10/2002 -  6/16/2002
  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
 5/20/2002 -  5/26/2002
 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, October 9, 2003
13:51 - O'really?

In between legs of a journey once again to Home Despot to pick up trifling little tidbits like MORE GIANT CREOSOTE-SOAKED RAILROAD TIES, which I sincerely hope is the last we'll ever have to see of these things, I heard the Fresh Air interview that aired last night with Bill O'Reilly. Bill walked out fifty minutes in, after telling Terry Gross in no uncertain terms that he thought her interviewing tactics were despicable and that he was being made the unfair victim of a hatchet job.

The audio stream is here. And it's worth a listen, because both O'Reilly (on his own show) and Terry proudly broadcast the interview, each thinking that it exonerated him/herself and made the other person look like a dunce or bitch (as the case may be). O'Reilly said, "I rather enjoyed telling her off; go listen to the archived interview on my own site and see what I mean"; but Terry actually used that quote in her packaging of the show, appealing to the "I'm the unbiased one! See? Look, I don't even use any adjectives in describing how the interview went!" contingent.

And I listened. I was interested in hearing exactly how the interview deteriorated.

The subject was nominally O'Reilly's book, Who's Looking Out For You?-- though it turned out to be more about Al Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which skewers O'Reilly. And the very first question that Terry led off with was, "Are you sorry you sued Al Franken?"

This was only the first in a long string of erroneous accusations that Terry leveled at him, and O'Reilly deflected them all with facts and personal statements of purpose. Now, I can see how some people might consider O'Reilly to be a pompous ass-- he says things like "I have three bestselling books, Terry," and unless you realize the context is that he's trying to explain that he doesn't want the Times reviewing them because he knows they'll only turn it into an excuse to attack him, it sounds rather high-handed. But by the time O'Reilly got to the point where he drew himself up to his full height and really told her off, it was clear (to me, at least) that he was entirely right in thinking that the interview had been very little but a long string of attacks that he was expected to fend off, hopefully saying something potentially embarrassing along the way "that they can print in Harper's Magazine". Terry's questioning consisted almost entirely of reading disparaging quotes against O'Reilly that other authors and reviewers had made, and then asking him: "So, is that a fair assessment?" It's like "Al Franken here calls you, and I quote: A snooty nutcase who's brainwashed into going lock-step with the party line and clubs baby seals. How do you respond to that?" Over and over and over. The only thing that wasn't along those lines was in the middle of the interview, where she asked him, in effect, So you're conservative, huh? How did you get that way? Did you have a bad childhood? Were you abused by your father? Is it maybe some kind of medical condition? Please explain to our listeners; I'm sure they really want to know.

O'Reilly seemed unaware of what Fresh Air is about. If he had, he might have been well aware of how "balanced" Terry's choice of guests and interview formats is. She had clearly not been as confrontational with Al Franken when she'd had him on a previous show, as O'Reilly charged in a surmise-- she admitted as much. And last week, when she hosted the guy from Americans For Tax Reform (who, incidentally, was erudite and genuinely pleasant and inspiring to listen to-- especially his bit about being a "Reagan Federalist", in the sense that he believes each State should have to compete for "customers"-- citizens-- by providing the best bang for the buck, or else they'll move to a different State), she listened to what he had to say with genuine and abject horror. When the guy explained how any kind of tax that divides people based on their income is sold to the public based on how many people are likely to be alarmed by it ("Don't worry-- it's not you that's being affected by this, it's them-- it's someone else"), it's based on the same kind of mentality that led to the Nazis' actions, Terry audibly blinked a few times, interrupted him, and said, "Did... did you just compare a progressive tax to the Holocaust?" And the guy had to explain it all over again-- he didn't backtrack or rethink what he was saying, but he had to drive it all home again to try to counter Terry's Godwin-esque attempt to drive her shiv into his credibility. It's a real shame that she didn't simply listen to what the guy was saying, and respond intelligently, rather than just using her unassuming and melodic voice to caress and massage and look for just the right chink in the guest's armor where she can zero in for the kill.

As for O'Reilly, I think he acquitted himself with dignity, though Terry did her best to damage-control her way out of it with matter-of-factness and making a big show of how unemotional she was in presenting The Facts. I think O'Reilly was plenty justified in feeling threatened and under attack by her questioning-- I know I wouldn't have enjoyed spending an hour countering disparaging remarks made against me by my rivals. I'm proud of Fresh Air for posting the transcript, because I do think it's more damning against Fresh Air than it is against O'Reilly.

13:24 - Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing

Refer to Savage Garden.

When alcohol and cholesterol are runnin' through your veins
And lawyers suing burger joints are poisoning my brain
Vegan food and whole-wheat pizza pushin' me too far
I've got to break away
So take my hand now
Cause I want to live like cannibals
Healthy and free, like cannibals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
For arms and the ribs and the eyes and the feet...

I've been having difficulties shopping at the store
Unexpected cravings always leave me wanting more
Cannibals are onto something, Stouffer's doesn't see
Which one eats a human?
Solves our problems, you and me

Nutrition in the jungle
Nutrition in your head, yeah
Would you like to make a run for it?
I would like to taste your hand, yeah

Cause I want to live like cannibals
Healthy and free, like cannibals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
For arms and the ribs and the eyes and the feet...

Sometimes a meal can get you down
It's so unhealthy
There's so many carcinogens
And I feel like
I'd sorta rather eat the cheeeeeeef

When alcohol and cholesterol are runnin' through your veins
And lawyers suing burger joints are poisoning my brain
Cannibals are onto something, Stouffer's doesn't see
Which one eats a human?
Solves our problems, you and me

Nutrition in the jungle
Nutrition in your head, yeah
Would you like to make a run for it?
I would like to taste your hand, yeah

Cause I want to live like cannibals
Healthy and free, like cannibals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
For arms and the ribs and the eyes and the feet...

Thank you, thank you.


UPDATE: Let's get the revolution started, then. I'm hungry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003
11:22 - I'm sure that doesn't count as gloating...

Greg Kihn is on a roll these days.

...And the shining star of democracy rises into the sky like a lawn chair attached to a weather balloon... making navigation difficult for slow-moving blimps. Let the new age dawn for California! And I say, two cars in every garage! Two chickens in every pot! ... And free pot for every chicken!

I think he just makes it up as he goes along.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003
03:30 - Let the "Recall Arnold" petitions fly

For the most satisfying response to today's events that I've yet found, I'm going to recommend (surprise) Bill Whittle.

The day will come when we will lose a big election. On that day, we should say that we lost because we failed – we failed to articulate our message, we failed because we ran corrupt and uninspiring candidates, we failed because we didn’t listen to the wisdom of the electorate – we failed because we thought four or five political hacks in a campaign room somewhere knew what was better for the nation or the state than the millions and millions of people who actually live and work in it. And on that day, we should pledge to do better, to try harder to get the message across, and most importantly, to listen to what the people are saying. And we should accept that loss, congratulate the winners, accept defeat with grace and dignity – like adults -- and then look under the hood with a very cold and unemotional eye, fix the mistakes, and get a better product out there. This would mean giving up the infantile pleasures of moaning and crying about the Lost Cause. But that is what you have to do in order to win. And with stakes this high, winning matters. It matters.

Yes. And I intend to treat this election's results as the dignified and meaningful expression of our two-century-old institution that it is, and ponder the deep significance of declining opposition poll numbers and the democratic implications of mid-term special elections and the phenomenon of actor governors and the realism of expectations for the remainder of the current term and the cautious eye we'll have to keep on ourselves to make sure we hold Arnold to the same standard that we'd hold anybody...


Tonight, I'm simply going to go to bed happy.

I guess it's all to the good that my iPod has finally croaked its last, and no longer stays mounted long enough for me to boot the iMac and do screenshots before it resets itself repeatedly and endlessly. Tomorrow I buy an external pocket drive. And tonight I lie on a couch and smugly reload those poll numbers.

I'll be back to my analytical and dispassionate self in the morning.


22:09 - Insane! Insane, I tells ya!

So I register my G5 with Apple. And they send me an e-mail that says, "Hey! Thanks for registering. As a thank-you, how about we give you a year's free subscription to MacWorld?"

Eh. Whatever, y'know? I can't even really get too excited about MacAddict these days; I haven't read MacWorld in an awfully long time. And whoopty-doo, a half-year's subscription and stuff. And there was much rejoicing; little flags wave.

The e-mail sits in my inbox for like two weeks. Finally, today, while I wait for the recall results to be announced (Heh-- CNN reports results of 0% for every candidate, for the recall, and against the recall), I pop it open and read what it actually says.

You may choose to receive your free issues of Macworld in the exciting NEW digital format OR the traditional print format. By choosing digital, you can receive your first issue of Macworld instantly - no waiting for it to arrive in the mail. It's the same great magazine delivered directly to your Mac with powerful and interactive features.

Digital format? Hmm. You mean, like, a web page? Or maybe a PDF?

What the hell. I go click on the linky thing. I fill out the little form. I select the digital option. It downloads something called the "Zinio Reader", which is an app that automatically downloads these packaged digital magazines on a regular basis and lets me read them offline. Mm'kay; with ya so far.

Up pops the November issue of MacWorld.


Looks like a PDF. Gee-whillikers. I can click to zoom in, and click again to soom out. Yaaay.

How do I turn the page? No little arrows in the toolbar.


<clicks on the right margin, because it seems intuitive to do so>


Wait! Do that again!

The page-turning effect takes less than half a second. It goes ZIP. And it's totally smoothly mapped onto this weird curved surface.

Is that bloody gratuitous or what?

Phew. <flip> <flip>

Okay, get that thing outta my face. Hide the app. There's my web browser.

CNN: NO on recall, by 52-47%? You gotta be kidding me...

UPDATE: Wait, no. 53-45% in favor.

UPDATE: No! 52-47%! Dang it! They keep changing their mind. How can they not know all the results ten minutes after the polls close?! Blaahh!

11:41 - Representing the human vote

Greg Kihn with ongoing recall election coverage:

Green Party candidate Peter Camejo getting strong support from the waterfowl and rodent population... waterfowl and rodents, of course, having gotten the vote after Gray Davis signed the "Every Species Gets a Vote" bill, secretly, last week...

I gotta get to the polls. Damn waterfowl!

Monday, October 6, 2003
12:05 - Dirty dancing can be dangerous

"No, Freddy! Haven't you heard about the new dance policy? That's not acceptable here!"

I don't know if I should give these people points for creativity and gamely attempted humor, or points for inadvertent train-wreck quality.

Either way, it's in Lawrence, Kansas, Mike...

04:10 - Anybody need a large-format flatbed scanner?

Because my new G5 has PCI-X slots, which are not compatible with the standard PCI SCSI card that powers my Microtek ScanMaker 6400XL scanner, I'm forced to sell it so I can recoup the cost toward the next model up (which supports FireWire).

(Forced to sell the scanner. Not the G5.)

And since nobody on Ebay feels like bidding, it behooves me to seek out some form of advertising for buyers that's free and yet reaches an audience of like-minded people who might be interested in this sort of thing.

Like... oh, I don't know... a blog.

Here she is. This is a large-format ("tabloid") scanner, e.g. 17x12" (A3) scan bed. It's in like-new shape, it's never let me down, and I feel like a cad for parting with it at all. It comes with:
  • Adaptec AHA-2906 PCI SCSI card, including Win/Mac drivers and all original manuals
  • 12-foot SCSI cable, 25-pin to 25-pin, which connects to the SCSI card directly
  • 25-pin to 50-pin adapter for the scanner end of the cable
  • Power cord

The scanner cost $900 when it was new; I'd be very happy if I could get something in the range of $500 for it now, but I'll be glad to listen to reasonable offers.

(Here's the official product page.)

Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Sunday, October 5, 2003
03:02 - American Indians Aren’t Like Palestinians

So says David A. Yeagley, a Comanche Indian.

Via Emperor Misha I.

01:41 - Turf Wars

Pictures! Yay!

This weekend we made some major progress in the backyard. We went from fence-up-but-not-much-else to fence-and-planter-box-installed-and ready-to-start-the-deck. This involves lots of intermediate steps, but I have lots of pictures, so bear with me.

First of all, the "Before" pictures.

Nice, right? A little bleak, a little stark, a little empty-- a little small, for that matter. Right? The tree is kinda ugly; this is taken in Februrary, though, when I was still on the initial tour with the real estate agent. Boring old backyard. Nothing to write home about, or certainly to post about.

What you don't see, because I couldn't bear to take a picture of it from the kitchen door, was the view you get when you look straight east, straight at the wall.

For maximum horror, here it is from the upstairs bedroom window:

That's right: it's the one major reason why this house had been on the market for five months, and had had its asking price lowered twice to about 3/4 that of all the identical houses on the street. There's a friggin' power substation right behind the house.

The real estate agents were having a hell of a time getting people interested, apparently; seems it was the South-of-85 version of the Murder House that Marge sold to the Flanderses. Once, when I was standing in the cul-de-sac talking to the agent, another agent drove into the driveway and took a potential buyer inside. I heard them talking, clucking over the living room, looking at the staircase, going into the kitchen, looking outside-- and then TROMP TROMP TROMP they come running back outside, jump in the SUV, back out of the driveway, screech to a halt, and then peel out westward down the street, leaving smoking rubber patches where their tires were. And hey, it's not like I can blame them.

But we were stupid that way-- we thought, hey, we can MAKE something of this! And for what it's worth, the station doesn't make that much noise or anything, and we're sure there aren't any PCBs or anything in the soil or evil EM waves in the air. (We even get perfectly fine AirPort reception.) And the view, if you ignore the power station, on a clear day (which the above picture is not), actually looks out across the valley to the mountains on the opposite side-- it's a nice view, a valley view. It's not a view of, say, someone else's backyard.

How's that for spin?

Anyway: after a summer's worth of work both inside and out in the house, it's really become a totally different beast now. The interior colors are all different. My bedroom is now a luxurious master suite with crown moldings, new floor trim, a semi-private bath, and a divider wall with archways and red velvet curtains leading to the bed area. (Material for another post.) Art is hung on the walls. The front yard is landscaped with boulders and hibiscuses and a myrtle and a park bench. And the backyard is unrecognizable as its former self.

First order of business, after installing the hot tub (first things first), was the fence.

Neat, huh? It's made of redwood fence slats screwed into horizontal beams bolted to vertical treated 4x4 posts, which are each carriage-bolted into holes we painstakingly hammer-drilled through the concrete-brick fence. It totally blocks out most of the power station from ground level-- and what you can see through the latticework will be blocked out once we plant some morning glories which will climb up the vertical trellises and creep throughout the horizontal pieces.

But what shall we plant them in, my precioussss?

Why, this!

(Do be so good as to disregard the machinery littering the place. What I'm pointing at is what's along the base of the fence.)

It's a planter box, made of railroad ties. And those things are heavy! 9x7-inch by 8-foot pine beams, soaked in creosote, which fills your lungs and causes cancer when you try to cut it. But it's been wrestled into shape and pinned into position, and now all the fill soil we dug out of the front yard is piled into the box and ready to be covered with topsoil.

I should note that in the picture on the upper right, the big open expanse of dirt is where there used to be a mound of earth and turf carted in from the front, and caked into a volcanic lava cap by the summer heat. Today I moved it all, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, into the planter box. And even when armed with a pickax and a square-point shovel, it is hard to cut turf. It's got that nylon-string mesh stuff, and the big clods stick together and prevent you from getting your shovel into it. My left arm is hanging limply by my side as I type; fortunately I've trained my blisters to be prehensile, or else I'd never have been able to type this.

Anyway, that's where things stand. I may post a layout drawing of the backyard plan sometime soon; it's vital for the understanding of what's going on to be able to see the final blueprint. The deck, suffice it to say, will surround the hot tub and sit on top of the railroad ties where it juts back toward the house, and will merge flush with the edge of the planter box. The railroad ties will be painted (to reduce the creosote smell) and faced with redwood, to make it possible to sit on them. And then the box will be filled full of turf, ground-cover flowers, and nice spreading trees which will nod over the hot tub.

And then the right corner gets planted with birch groves and floored with bushes and lawn and inlaid with pavers for lawn furniture, and the left corner gets a gazebo, a flooring treatment involving lots of flat flagstones, and a round lawn. Add a few more trees as privacy screens, run 110-volt power and Ethernet and soupcan-string intercom, and voilá-- nothin' to it!

Honestly I have no idea what we've let ourselves in for. But it's been fun so far-- or at least, I'm assuming it's been fun, because most things that leave me this sore are fun.

00:51 - Thanks for the bullet points

There's an anti-recall ad on TV right now. It says:

Under a Democratic governor, we've:
  • Passed domestic partnership legislation
  • Banned greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming
  • Strengthened laws protecting a woman's right to choose
  • Enacted the nation's toughest gun safety laws
  • Worked to stop offshore drilling
  • Passed the 8-hour work day
  • Increased the minimum wage
  • Expanded family and medical leave

The Republicans fought against each of these issues. If they get rid of the governor, what do you think they'll do next?

Gee, I dunno, but I've got a few suggestions.
Saturday, October 4, 2003
02:59 - The case for a state-run news media

Phew. Sorry about the deliberately misleading title. I just did it to get your attention. Did it work?

But things that are deliberately misleading is kinda the subject of the day, isn't it?

I've gotten a lot of responses to my post from Thursday, in which I said:

Next year's election will be where the final hand is dealt. It will tell us how many people in this country have been able to weather the battering of the guiltmongers and the doom-seekers and the sowers of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, and hold on to what we know is the right course of action for ourselves and for the world-- and how many are ready to cash in, give up, lie down and let blissful slumber overtake our eyes while the Pods placed by the social-progressive Europeans creep ever closer to our bedsides.

One of the more cynical responses said, simply, "Democracy's a bitch... isn't it?"

All I could think of in response was, "Yup... after all, it gave us Hitler."

There's an ugly expression-- or, rather, an expression that's come to seem ugly through modern eyes: "Making the world safe for democracy." It's an idea that seems to have gone largely out of style, mostly because people don't really "get" what it means anymore. To many, it sounds like a veiled form of idealistic imperialism, a presumption on the part of buzz-cut white males in Congress that our quaint and abstract and tired concept of "democracy" is something that the rest of the world wants, and only doesn't have because of some vague and imagined threat floating on the horizon.

It's been a while since anybody had to think of this as being reality. It's been a while since it's been reality.

Or has it?

It's at the core of what we're doing in the Middle East, after all. We're removing obstacles which stand in the way of democracy, such as the Taliban and Saddam. Democracy is a powerful self-sustaining force, but it's more fragile than we often realize-- in order to take root, it needs time, dedication, and stability. And even a stable democracy can be overthrown... or overthrow itself.

We fought against encroaching communism because communism was an idea that could be voted in by a democratic public, even though once instated it would effectively destroy the democracy that created it. It's a seductive, compelling idea, one that-- given enough play in people's minds-- can come to power and then burn the bridges behind it that brought it there.

For Marx, after all, had something right: he believed that it was the natural progression of a capitalist society to eventually evolve into a communist one. So we've seen can indeed be the case, in a sense: the richer and safer and more peaceful a country becomes on the strength of its free-market economy, the more its people will push for socialistic reform, more state services paid for by higher taxes, and so on. Guilt on the part of the rich leads to elites pushing statism as a form of philanthropy for the proletariat. A democracy can voluntarily vote into power a communist system, because its people will be convinced that it's the best thing for them to do.

Trouble is, communism isn't a "new and improved" form of economics, one that breaks free of capitalism-imposed chains and carries its adherent nations to the stars. It's quite the opposite, as we've seen; it can take a vibrant, innovative, individualistic people and transform it into a homogeneous, dull, dreary, bleak mass of impoverished welfare-slaves without hope of respite (let alone aspiration to excellence), crushed under the weight of a bloated and often unbelievably brutal State. The people might have voted for it, but it's not the enlightened panacea they'd hoped it would be. And they'd go back to the way it was before... if only they could.

Our goal during the Cold War was to "make the world safe for democracy"-- meaning that we would prevent communism from taking hold in countries that might be seduced into voluntarily trying it. Our doing so meant the support of brutal military dictators in places like Iran and Panama and Chile, and we've paid a bitter price in honor and human life-- but wasn't it the lesser of two evils, in the long run? Maybe not, but can the question be dismissed out of hand?

So here we are, "making the world safe for democracy" again. This time, the threat we have to fight in order to make democracy safe is Islamism and old-fashioned Arab strongman dictatorship. Both things that a democratic Middle Eastern populace can vote into power. It's unlikely that Iraq would choose an Islamist government like the Taliban or like the Iranian mullahs, but the possibility is there-- it could happen.

All it takes is for the free populace of a democracy to be fed misleading information, pervasively and from the sources that they implicitly trust. Whether these sources are the government, religious leaders, or a free press, all that matters is that the people believe it.

Gary Larson reminds us:

This phenomenon validates Joseph Goebbels' 1934 advice: Bombard the "primitive rank and file," with "propaganda...essentially simple and repetitive." To say this Nazi tactic works today is an understatement.

And, needless to reiterate, Hitler came to power democratically.

So: what is it that keeps our democracy strong and self-sustaining?

A free media, many cry.

Yeah, well, here's a question: What happens when a free media undergoes a trend wherein it decides as a bloc to accomplish some partisan end, even if it means perpetuating lies and deliberately misleading the public? What checks and balances exist in a free media to make sure it keeps telling the truth, so the populace is accurately informed?

Well, there are news organs of every political persuasion, comes the answer. If one is lying, another will balance it out and debunk it.

A fine theory. One that's served us well for many, many years. One that certainly seems always to have held true.

But what if it's not?

What if all the major news organs decide that their job is no longer To Tell The Truth, but To Get Ratings? What if journalists, ever seeking the scoop of a lifetime and the status of a Bob Woodward, commit to actively defrauding the public so as to advance their own careers within the media industry that's itself locked into a marketing/sales feedback loop of dispensing anti-Administration memes, being told by ratings that the people--fascinated and shocked--want to see more, and then having to produce more and more of the same slanted "reporting" because it's what the audience wants?

Americans have an insatiable lust for The Truth; it's part of our DNA. We also have a latent mistrust for authority, and we're always willing to entertain the notion that our government might be lying to us.

So we give the benefit of the doubt-- reflexively-- to whoever blows the whistle on them. It's a lot harder for us to believe that Jimmy Olsen is misleading us than that the government is, and we love a good stick-it-to-the-Man scandal. It's the media who always looks like the good guys... even when they're the weasels.

I'm not saying that this is what's actually happening. The media companies appear to be left-biased, but their relentlessly downbeat reporting about Iraq and Bush might stem simply from the "good news doesn't sell" adage, and a palpable sense of cynicism about blatant patriotism in the news-- even if all that can be interpreted as such is the ungarnished coverage of a positive development in the war. But it can hardly be denied that the media seems more willing to linger over the kinds of headlines that Michael Moore or Robert Fisk might pen, than over a dispassionate White House press release. It's hard to pin down the likes of CNN and MSNBC and the New York Times as deliberately lying as a matter of course. But their slant feeds free organzations like MoveOn.org, who do their grass-roots activism based on a fraudulently constructed impression of reality, as when they gleefully parrot New York Times Dowdifications like the "Ahnuld is a Nazi" meme even as it gets soundly debunked by the people who are paying attention.

So what happens if our free media, the institution that we so rightly place on a pedestal as one of our greatest achievements and the most obvious declaration of our unashamed belief in the strength of our democracy, lies to its patrons like Goebbels did?

We've grown to trust our free media precisely because it's free. Its freedom inherently guarantees accuracy and balance, we tell ourselves.

And that's where a lying free media is even more insidious than a Pravda. Because if we had a Pravda in this country, at least we would know it was lying. We don't expect lies from CNN.

I will reiterate, just for clarity: a state-run media would be a disaster for this country, a baldfaced denial of everything we stand for. I hate the idea. It's despicable. I would never condone such a thing, or deign to live in an America that had instituted it.

But... (and don't we all love that word now?)...

If our free society and its free press have embarked upon a feedback loop of anti-Bush rhetoric that has taken upon itself such a life of its own that we no longer care whether the things we accuse him of are even true, as long as they get him out of office... that is precisely what would signal, to me, the demise of the America that we know. It would mean that freedom had failed us. It would mean that in our freedom and our trust in those whom we trusted because of our freedom, we had wilfully deluded ourselves from reality in favor of a sickly-sweet poultice for our souls. It would mean that we had sacrificed Truth at the altar of pleasing fantasies. It would mean that we'd come to value other countries' present opinions over the lessons of our own history.

This has never been true of us in the past-- and the day it becomes true is the day that America ceases to be America.

Friday, October 3, 2003
03:22 - Meanwhile, on planet Earth

"Controversial Cleveland murals are protected".

Yeah, I'll "protect" them all right. Please go stand by the stairs.

Ayad, 37, a Palestinian-American who owns Grandpa's Kitchen, has had dozens of controversial images painted on his business establishment over the last few years. Public officials and Jewish Clevelanders say these murals are blatantly offensive and antisemitic.

The newest signs, painted over the spring and summer at the deli, include a group of skullcap-wearing Jews counting money at a table while Jesus hangs on a cross above them, and a supposed talmudic endorsement of pedophilia. In the latter, a Jewish priest holds a small boy in his arms. The priest is quoted as saying, "Silly man, this is not my son, he's my wife." Below this is an alleged line from the Talmud. "Like the tear comes to the eye again and again so does ... virginity to a child under 3 years and 1 day."

Above this mural is contact information for Cong. Stephanie Tubbs Jones for those seeking reparations from Israel. The congresswoman's image has also unflatteringly appeared on past murals. Ayad was angry she never followed up on a letter she sent him over two years ago, claiming she would help him get back his father's land.

Another new sign shows Hitler with the Star of David branded into his upraised and bleeding hand. A larger Star of David superimposed with a swastika is painted to the right of this image.

Remember, always remember: It's Muslims who are constantly oppressed and silenced and publicly vilified in this racist country of ours.

I mean, criminy.

Via LGF.

03:04 - Not off the hook

So Verisign's being made to take out their * records.

VeriSign Inc., the firm that operates a key piece of the Internet's address system, said it would temporarily shut down a new service that makes money off the typos of Web users after the Internet's oversight body threatened to take legal action against the company.

Earlier today, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) President Paul Twomey sent a letter to VeriSign demanding that the company take the service down or face legal consequences. Under its contracts with VeriSign ICANN can impose up to $100,000 in fines or strip the company of its authority to operate the registries that handle dot-com and dot-net Internet addresses.

Damn straight.

But look at VeriSign's 'tude:

"Without so much as a hearing, ICANN today formally asked us to shut down the Site Finder service," said VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin. "We will accede to their request while we explore all of our options."

. . .

VeriSign also angered the close-knit group of engineers and scientists who are familiar with the technology underpinning the Internet. They say that Site Finder undermines the worldwide Domain Name System, causing e-mail systems, spam-blocking technology and other applications to malfunction.

VeriSign said the claims are overblown.

"There is no data to indicate the core operation of the domain name system or the stability of the Internet has been adversely affected," VeriSign's Galvin said. "ICANN is using anecdotal and isolated issues in an attempt to assert a dubious right to regulate non-registry services."

It would have been one thing if VeriSign had owned up to their error, said "We understand that this move on our part has caused legitimate concern to many Internet technical professionals, and we apologize for our presumption." It would even have been hardly objectionable-- just par for the course-- if they'd taken the tack of "Well, we're sorry we got caught. But it won't happen again."

But this?

"War is breaking out between the regulators and the people they regulate. This is a real power struggle [over] who controls the rules on the Internet going forward," said said Paxfire's Lewyn.

"Oh! You freaky propellerheads don't know what you're talking about! This is all just politics! You're all ganging up on a poor defenseless company who's only trying to innovate!"

These comments tear it. I'd mistrusted VeriSign before, but now they've shown themselves to be totally uninterested in the proper operation of the system they're being trusted to administer-- only in gouging people.

The VeriSign, the.

19:11 - Color me surprised


Polish troops in Iraq (news - web sites) have found four French-built advanced anti-aircraft missiles which were built this year, a Polish Defense Ministry spokesman told Reuters Friday.

France strongly denied having sold any such missiles to Iraq for nearly two decades, and said it was impossible that its newest missiles should turn up in Iraq.

"Polish troops discovered an ammunition depot on Sept. 29 near the region of Hilla and there were four French-made Roland-type missiles," Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said.

"It is not the first time Polish troops found ammunition in Iraq but to our surprise these missiles were produced in 2003."

You know, I always wondered what Arabs thought of using missiles named after the French semi-mythological hero who fought back the Saracens at Roncesvaux.

Apparently it was just peachy-keen, with Saddam and with Chiraq.

Thursday, October 2, 2003
20:25 - Sarindar

If this is true...

Iraq, in my view, had its own "Sarindar" plan in effect direct from Moscow. It certainly had one in the past. Nicolae Ceausescu told me so, and he heard it from Leonid Brezhnev. KGB chairman Yury Andropov, and later, Gen. Yevgeny Primakov, told me so, too. In the late 1970s, Gen. Primakov ran Saddam's weapons programs. After that, as you may recall, he was promoted to head of the Soviet foreign intelligence service in 1990, to Russia's minister of foreign affairs in 1996, and in 1998, to prime minister. What you may not know is that Primakov hates Israel and has always championed Arab radicalism. He was a personal friend of Saddam's and has repeatedly visited Baghdad after 1991, quietly helping Saddam play his game of hide-and-seek.

. . .

It was just a few days after this last "Disclosure," after a decade of intervening with the U.N. and the rest of the world on Iraq's behalf, that Gen. Primakov and his team of military experts landed in Baghdad — even though, with 200,000 U.S. troops at the border, war was imminent, and Moscow could no longer save Saddam Hussein. Gen. Primakov was undoubtedly cleaning up the loose ends of the "Sarindar" plan and assuring Saddam that Moscow would rebuild his weapons of mass destruction after the storm subsided for a good price.

Mr. Putin likes to take shots at America and wants to reassert Russia in world affairs. Why would he not take advantage of this opportunity? As minister of foreign affairs and prime minister, Gen. Primakov has authored the "multipolarity" strategy of counterbalancing American leadership by elevating Russia to great-power status in Eurasia. Between Feb. 9-12, Mr. Putin visited Germany and France to propose a three-power tactical alignment against the United States to advocate further inspections rather than war. On Feb. 21, the Russian Duma appealed to the German and French parliaments to join them on March 4-7 in Baghdad, for "preventing U.S. military aggression against Iraq." Crowds of European leftists, steeped for generations in left-wing propaganda straight out of Moscow, continue to find the line appealing.

Mr. Putin's tactics have worked. The United States won a brilliant military victory, demolishing a dictatorship without destroying the country, but it has begun losing the peace. While American troops unveiled the mass graves of Saddam's victims, anti-American forces in Western Europe and elsewhere, spewed out vitriolic attacks, accusing Washington of greed for oil and not of really caring about weapons of mass destruction, or exaggerating their risks, as if weapons of mass destruction were really nothing very much to worry about after all.

... And we end up voting Bush out of office purely because of the palatability of the idea that he "lied" about WMD, then it's all over. The terrorists will have won.

Not just them, though. Al Qaeda's actually a side issue in the global game, looked at through this lens. What's really at stake is a century-long war of ideology, where on one side we have the ever-encroaching socialistic forces that prey on the compassion of people in rich and peaceful countries... and on the other, increasingly alone in holding out against those forces, is America. The Cold War had strongly delineated sides, big polar extremes to choose between. But since 1990, when we thought we'd won, it seems to me that all we've done is let our guard down.

The encroachment has continued. Only it's been at such a low level, and embarked upon with such pure and benign of intentions, that we never saw it coming.

It's called the "peace" movement, "green" politics, our old buddy transnational progressivism, and Western self-loathing and revulsion at seeing our own institutions-- the things we'd once looked on with pride and affection, like Levi's and McDonald's and Barbie-- being pulled into far-flung cultures. They all loved us, but we hated ourselves. We hated ourselves for poisoning the world with our gauche impurity. And we fought ourselves whenever we had the opportunity to make the world a better, richer, or more peaceful place.

We were busy for fifty years trying to hold back the Iron Curtain. But the forces trying to hold us back come from within our own borders.

Sure, that's no bad thing, if what you're talking about is "imperialism". (Read this if it's what you think I mean.) But it is a bad thing when the America that the hippies and their modern counterparts mean to restrain is the America that dares to try to do some good in the world, just because it's the right thing to do. "Who are we to say what's right or wrong?" they cry.

Well, it seems to me that we've done a better-than average job of making those judgments so far. Better than some countries I could mention.

But now we've seen exactly what happens when all the sides in this ideological battle, all the ones who have been building up their ranks in secret and in the open for decades, are called upon to show their hands. 9/11 did that-- it brought everyone out of the woodwork, Right and Left, and forced everyone to take sides. In the grand scheme, it looks as though that's the biggest effect 9/11 may in fact have had: it's the closing bell, the shout of pencils down! that tells us to take stock now of how many people stand on which side of the line.

Protests in the streets of cities around the world against the prospect of America freeing twenty-four million people from the grip of the worst tyrant since Hitler have shown one side's numbers, one side's strength. "Human shields". University professors remembering Mogadishu the way we used to remember the Ardennes. Hollywood, our proudest and most uniquely American institution, rallying in a bloc to impose restraint upon our bellicosity. And the news media determined to convert our proudest moment in the modern age, our greatest act of charity and humanity and sacrifice, and our most easily vindicated by anyone looking at it with clear eyes-- into a shameful failure. That is the measure of the opposition's strength.

They're stronger than I ever would have imagined possible.

It's not "protest" when you've gained the upper hand.

All the threads are coming together now. All the grass-roots forces and pressure groups and lobbies that with one hand held up the torch against the bleak bulwarks of the Warsaw Pact, and with the other sifted into our national bloodstream an intravenous drip of a watered-down, sugared-up, tantalizingly addictive stream of the same poison that had doused the far side of those walls-- they've all shown their colors now. All in the name of equality, diversity, peace, conservation, and respect, we've found ourselves not having won the Cold War after all-- but having set ourselves up to lose the Warm War. That's what it's been all along.

Who could be so callous as to take a stand against racial equanimity? Or so hateful as to oppose peace? Or so ghoulish as to fight against environmental controls?

Those questions are exactly the weapons that we were never equipped to defend against. Nor, judging by the snow-blanket silence coming from the White House lately, do we have the means to do so now.

Because it would appear that the forces that want us to pull back, quiet down, leave the world stage, and stop trying to solve other people's problems are in fact stronger than the forces that cling to those old-fashioned notions of justice, fairness, security, and freedom for all.

The only reason that the latter side has been able to make the strides that it has, in Afghanistan and Iraq, is because of a fluke-- a few boxes of hanging-chad ballots in Florida. More and more it appears that if it weren't for the contents of the trunk of a car in Dade County, Saddam would still today be enthroned in Baghdad, and New York might be a denuded ruin or Los Angeles a poisoned wasteland.

"But Los Angeles IS a--" Hush.

More and more it appears that what the people of this country really want is what people like Michael Moore and Peter Camejo want: apologies, capitulation, accession to the practices of the enlightened governments of Europe and Asia, and the voluntary surrender of our nation's armed might-- a gun buyback program for the United States Military-- so as to bring about true global equality and unarmed world government. The people calling in to NPR this morning on the ongoing Recall coverage show, if their sheer numbers were any indication at all, show that there's only so much propaganda we as a people can absorb from the get-the-government-overturning-scoop-or-die media before we start to believe it, facts on the ground be damned. 9/11 brought the world into sharp relief for many people-- but for nearly as many the wound scabbed over far too rapidly, forming an ugly scar as they worried it endlessly, searching for a way to take solace in ritual self-mutilation.

Next year's election will be where the final hand is dealt. It will tell us how many people in this country have been able to weather the battering of the guiltmongers and the doom-seekers and the sowers of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, and hold on to what we know is the right course of action for ourselves and for the world-- and how many are ready to cash in, give up, lie down and let blissful slumber overtake our eyes while the Pods placed by the social-progressive Europeans creep ever closer to our bedsides.

If Bush manages to win reelection, there's a chance. It means we have room for a much longer-term plan to be executed, a mandate to do things right in this effort to bring democracy and the rule of law at long last to the last part of the world still mired in medieval theocracy. It will spark outrage from the Left, but it'll be muted-- chastened, driven to the sidelines-- while the voices that gleefully revel in slogans like "Selected not Elected" and "Bush Lied, People Died" have to suck up the fact that they aren't being listened to, that they have no voice and no power after all. They'll have to face the fact that in order to win over a significant portion of the people of this country to your views, you have to grow up a little, walk a mile in the other man's shoes, find out what it is to live the kind of life you were raised to oppose. They'll have to understand that Americans aren't so fickle, so easily duped, so susceptible to cheap shots and low blows and infantile slogans repeated ad nauseum. They'll have to realize that America still believes, for all its faults, in America-- and it's not going to be converting itself into a clone of Canada or England or France (or, for that matter, Nazi Germany) anytime in the foreseeable future.

But if he loses... then it means the forces that have lost their faith in the American ideal, that have banked on the dream of the future they see in Star Trek, that think reality is a subjective and malleable toy that each person has free rein to knead and mold and bat around to his whim... those forces have grown strong enough to defeat those who think otherwise. It means America has changed forever, irreversibly. It means the great Experiment has failed-- the idea that the people can rule themselves, defeating the ages-old cycle of brutal dictators and evil nepotistic tyrannies and aristocratic, manufactured "culture" in favor of the true, vibrant jubilation of the common and everyday man and woman imagining a universe and changing the world, will cease to be a viable force on the global stage just as Marxist communism did.

At the time of the Civil War, Europe watched with ghoulish glee-- praying for the Confederacy to win, and so to dash to pieces this heretical idea of a Union of democratic States that could breach free of history and shame every nation that had not yet let go of its justifications for withholding governing power from its people. Lincoln, by holding the States together at the cost of nearly everything held dear up to that crowning ideal, threw humiliation to those European powers that had hoped so fervently to see America fail-- and in so doing, forced them into their own internal turmoils that led to the crashing overcorrections of nationalism and populism and elitism that eventually coalesced into the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. America got back on its course, but Europe lost its way-- and it took American resolve to put things right again.

The repercussions of WWII lead in direct lines to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the Vietnam War, the inevitable fall of the Soviet bloc (and sudden renewed hope in Eastern Europe for greater days ahead), and the emergence of America as the world's only superpower, endowed with the ability to change anything, anywhere on the globe, that we see fit, untrammeled by any technological or practical barriers. The only thing keeping America from remaking the world in what it knows to be a successful, intoxicatingly vibrant, deeply human and enlightened image is the reluctance and self-doubt of its own people. And so fearful is that people of the specter of becoming an imperial power, even one whose only "empire" consists of an exportation of ideas, prevents us from accomplishing those goals of supreme benevolence and modernity that it has taken the planet Earth thousands of years of human history just to be able to conceive of. At long last, eight thousand years after Ur, humanity is capable of standing up, of casting away the relics of ancient days that in the absence of a power keeping watch over them divide a people between privileged overclasses and downtrodden masses; free finally of the seduction of communism and its heavy-handed, statist imposition of equality at the expense of individuality, nations can tap the potential of all of their people and become proud, modern, and free. The age of tyranny is over. All that remains is to clean up the last vestiges of it.

If only we have the courage to do so, and the will to deny that we step onto a slippery slope toward Naziism every time we speak of defeating a despotic government and freeing a people. All it takes is to look the self-doubting hordes in the eye and say, loudly, NO! We are not out to enslave the world. We are doing the exact opposite. We have the unique opportunity to do the most good that's ever been done on the face of this planet, and all you can do is pine for a fantasy world? We're doing more than any country ever did before to bring this world a little closer every day to that very fantasy... and yet you oppose it because it means in the process we might end up killing the villains who currently keep it from coming about?

The realities of a world of tyranny and subterfuge and shady backroom deals is evident nowhere as much as in the stories of what went on in Saddam's Iraq-- not least between his doomed regime and a bitter, power-hungry ex-Soviet-bloc cadre of schemers. Yet our propensity for self-doubt causes us to suspect our own government of high treason before we entertain the possibility that we might have the moral high ground, that we only look like we have egg on our faces because we don't cheat. It's that kind of paralysis-- that kind of enslavement to our worst interpretations of everything we do-- that has the opportunity to kill this country's aspirations, to bring to naught everything we've worked for all this time. No other country, indeed not even the whole rest of the world put together, can kill America. But America can commit suicide.

We have a year to prepare-- to decide the direction our sword will be pointed.

11:50 - This time the Road Cruiser is a good thing to see


Hey. Yeah. Go look at this page-- and while you're at it, check out the intro and the rest of the site-- and tell me Afghanistan is doomed to remain forever in the crapper.

ARMAN FM supports local businesses.

Do you have a favorite store in Kabul?  Maybe the best prices, range or service.  Let us know & we will let others know as well!

Contact us on bestbuys@arman.fm or 070 28 93 83 or PO BOX 1045 Central Post Office, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sounds like... um... <gulp>

... America.
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
15:39 - Flip the switch

POWER is posted. (At 4:50 AM, too. Damn, he's been working hard on that one. And boy, is it ever worth it.)

How is it possible to quote from a Whittle piece? I won't do it.

Anyway, at the end he notes that Front Line Voices-- Frank J's new pet project, a showcase of letters from the soldiers and others on the ground about what's really happening in Iraq-- is open. I've been watching it prior to its official unveiling for a few days now, and it's going to merit a sidebar link, I do believe.

Bill says of the letters, "Go and read them. They will show you the kind of people -- the kind of power -- we really are far more eloquently than anything I could write." They're eloquent, yes, but Bill does sell himself short.

13:08 - Don't let this vanish into the bit-bucket

At NRO's Corner and via Tim Blair, a Seussian tale that someone simply must illustrate. Or at least save; it's too good to simply go the way of the Emperor's Comments. (Heh.)

Phil Rose, a friend in Seattle, writes to ask if people around here call the president "That Bush." Writes Phil, "They don't call him 'President Bush' or even 'Bush,' but 'That Bush' as in, 'Oooooh, I hate that Bush. That Bush is mean. That Bush is stupid. That Bush spends all his time taking money away from the people and giving it to The Rich.'" Phil says he found himself wondering who this guy "The Rich" is -- if he's anything like The Donald. He started thinking of That Bush being like the Grinch, slinking from house to house, stealing purses and wallets and putting them into a huge bag for The Rich. And then Phil started to write:


The poor people dove down in Dumpsters for stuff
But The Rich, in his palace, cried "I don't have enough!
"What to do? Who to call? What button to push?
"I know! The red one that summons That Bush!"

So The Rich pushed the button, a bell chimed "Clang! Clang!"
And up popped That Bush! And That Bush said, "You rang?"

And it goes on.
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
14:59 - Beautiful

Here's what MoveOn.org is now mailing around to all its subscribers, though its main page still seems bereft of recall-related links:

It's that one on the left that brings a little tear of gladness to my eye. Has the Left finally learned how to be self-effacing?

Or honest?

Monday, September 29, 2003
19:52 - Who didn't see this coming?

Well, this was only a matter of time.

The Jordanian official news agency Petra has reported that a member of parliament has demanded that the government prosecutes those responsible for screening the latest film "Bruce Al Mighty" by Hollywood comedian actor Jim Carey in Jordanian cinema houses. The agency, which refused to reveal the identity of the parliament member, added that an immediate order was given to stop showing the film in every movie theater.

According to the London based Elaph, it was stated that the parliament official referred to the film as an insult to God and a disgrace to all religions. Carey was also reprimanded for playing the leading role of Bruce, who in the film plays the role of a journalist who is given the powers of God Almighty and is dared to compete with God.

It's "Carrey", you humorless busybody twits.

("Bruce Al Mighty". That's even better. Maybe make it Mohammad Jim Al-Qari?)

15:27 - Don't write us off just yet

Damien Del Russo points this out:

When asked how they would vote on recalling Davis, 63 percent of probable voters surveyed said they would vote yes, compared with 35 percent who said they would vote no.

In a separate vote to choose a replacement for Davis, Schwarzenegger was the choice of 40 percent of respondents.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was the choice for 25 percent of voters polled, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock received 18 percent.

The poll showed Green Party candidate Peter Camejo with 5 percent and syndicated columnist and independent candidate Arianna Huffington with 2 percent of the respondents' support.

Good, good. So McClintock won't be a spoiler even if he stays in the race, because I imagine more people will throw in with Arnie as election day approaches (out of an acceptance of the reality of their comparative electabilities) than will swing to McClintock on principle. Bustamonte seems to be failing to thrill people (his numbers are barely better than McClintock's). Sure, these comparative numbers are only among those who would approve the recall (e.g. mostly Republicans), but it's refreshing to see just how little support Mr. DJ Smooth is getting. And it's even more refreshing to see that even out here in Berkeleyland, Huffington and King Camejomejo are waaaay down in the noise. California doesn't want anyone more socialist than Davis in office, thankyouverymuch.

We might just come out of this all right.

Meanwhile, in La-La Land, MoveOn.org is running an EMERGENCY! Stop Schwarzenegger! mailing campaign. Hey, good luck to 'em-- I suppose not winning a single kooky cause since Monicagate will really demoralize a group, huh?

05:18 - Return of the Trailers

It's here-- the Return of the King trailer. Go ye and download of it.

Friday, September 26, 2003
18:21 - Year of the Laptop

Apparently, whatever grand unified strategy Apple's got going for its laptop business is working.

Apple's American marketshare of laptops in the second quarter of this year jumped almost two percent from the previous quarter, making it one of the Mac maker's largest laptop share increases in well over two years, Think Secret has learned.

Numbers from industry market intelligence firm IDC showed Apple's biggest marketshare increase was in U.S.-sold laptops, rising from 5.1 percent, or 146,000 units sold, in the first quarter of this year, to 7.0 percent, or 216,000 units sold.

The increase from Apple's PowerBooks and iBooks moved the company from sixth spot to fifth place among laptop makers. For comparison, IBM was in fourth place with a 9.3 percent marketshare in American laptop sales.

Among other laptop makers, the industry average increase in U.S. laptop sequential sales for the second quarter was eight percent. Apple increase was a dramatic 48 percent -- the biggest jump among all manufacturers.

Wow. Thanks, Yao Ming and Mini-Me!

Seven percent. Ye gods. Those kinds of giddy numbers we haven't heard since the early 90s...

15:57 - Shake some sense into people

Forget yellowcake. Forget mass graves. Forget children's prisons. Forget weapons of mass destruction and pillaged museums, and especially oil.

Because this is what the anti-war forces were trying so hard to keep from happening. This is what the major media refuses to acknowledge is newsworthy or even positive.

Opinion polls conducted in Iraq since the war - by reputable polling agencies that have predicted election results across the world - have vindicated this view, showing that a large majority of Iraqis wanted the invasion. And there was therefore reason to hope that this visit to Iraq would be a happy one. None the less, I have spent the summer fearing for Sama, Yasser and Abtehale. Partly I was anxious for their physical safety: they were very close to the UN headquarters on the day the building was blown up, for example. But mostly I worried about their emotional health. All three had spent their lives pining for home. What if home disappointed them? What if the Iraqi people saw them as strangers? What if Iraqis did not want to hear them evangelise for democracy?

They returned to London earlier this month. The minute they arrived at my flat, beaming and speaking at a hundred words a minute, my fears evaporated. Abtehale began: "We were so scared that we might have been wrong. We kept thinking, `What if we get there and everybody hates us for supporting the war?' But it was amazing: almost everyone we met was more hawkish than us. All over the country, even people who really hated the Americans agreed it would have been a disaster if the war had been called off." Yasser said: "One of the first things my uncle said to me was that his greatest fear in the run-up to the war was that the Americans would do what they did in 1991 and leave us to Saddam."

Yet, Yasser admits: "The first fortnight, I was really, really depressed. Everyone in Iraq had been totally conditioned to wait to be told what to do by the state. Anybody with initiative got tortured or killed by Saddam, so people just waited for orders. So even after the liberation, they couldn't understand that they were free; they didn't know what it meant. But then I saw that gradually they were realising, and that day by day they were sort of defrosting."

The IPO people went to Iraq with clear goals. First, they wanted to establish debating societies and newsletters in the Baghdad universities. "These are going to be the seeds of democracy," Yasser explains. "Once you learn to argue against people instead of killing them as Saddam did, you're on your way. We explained to the university students that they could have different newspapers - and even have different opinions in the same newspapers - and it seemed totally surreal to them. They just couldn't understand it. But when they realised that it really was possible and nobody was going to punish them, they were so excited that they were just obsessed.

"They were in the middle of their exams and supposed to be studying, but they insisted on writing and photocopying a newsletter that they distributed everywhere. They wrote articles on amazing things they could find out about on the internet - philosophy and art and the difference between proportional representation and first-past-the-post! It was the best thing in my life, seeing that," Yasser says.

I could just quote and quote and quote. But read the whole thing, as they say. Please.

And then think about just what it means when 100,000 protesters gather in London to denounce the American presence in Iraq. Think of the "human shields" who went to Baghdad thinking they were doing the Iraqis a favor. Think about every anti-war slogan uttered by a friend or colleague.

And try to keep your gorge down.

UPDATE: Steven Den Beste does the necessary expansion on this that I didn't have the wherewithal to write. On one level, the article-- and the knowledge that so many utterly morally corrupt people in the world staunchly oppose the changes that are described in it-- speak for themselves. But on another, the analysis needs to be done. The revolution must be described; the process must be put into words.

Thursday, September 25, 2003
01:09 - Bandwagon

These two guys appear to be trying to start a meme.

Well, who've I ever been to buck a trend?

(Well, hell, it's not like I have a toddling daughter or anything...)

20:30 - Google Perpetuates an Injustice

Okay, this just gives me warm fuzzies for some weird reason.

So there's this guy, right? Back in 1995, when he's like in high school and tinkering around with his 386 (like I was at the same time), he finds he needs drivers for his Trident video card. He goes on a newsgroup for video cards and posts a message asking about the drivers, which he later finds. All is well.

Or so he thinks. So begins a nightmare.

However, a YEAR later I started getting messages about Trident Video Drivers two or three times a week. People had seen my question and had somehow concluded that I was a representative of Trident and responsible for their lack of drivers, any random GPFs on their machines, etc. Needless to say, I was not particularly enthused.

I put up this page and crossed my fingers. Sure enough, the hidden counter on this page shows that it was accessed over 300 times in the first month or so it was up. Since I seem to have accidentally become one of the foremost sources for Trident Video Driver information on the WWW, I thought I would at least make whatever information I know available.

This page you are reading contains all I know about Trident Video Drivers. Please don't email me questions about drivers. I do not work for Trident either as employee or as a consultant. The only reason this page is here is to save me from having to deal with all the messages I receive.

And they presumably still send this guy messages about problems with their Trident video cards to this day. Why? Because if you do a Google search on "trident video", the first link returned is that of Trident Microsystems' corporate site... and the second is this guy's venerable page.

He'd hoped that putting up that site would save him from having to answer all those e-mails. He'd hoped that people would find the site, read his story, become enlightened as to the nature of Trident Microsystems' video chipsets and the non-presence of information about them on his site, and go away. He'd hoped that as Trident faded from the market, people would stop sending him those queries.

And now his site is Googlewhacked. And people like me, looking on a whim for Trident's corporate site to see if they still exist, stumble onto it and post thoughtless links to his page. So Googlebots can crawl all over it, its hit ranking can climb ever higher, and he becomes by accident the de facto authority on Trident technology on the Internet.

All because of one innocent newsgroup post in 1995.

Self-healing system, my ASS!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003
22:20 - That didn't go as planned

I heard a good portion of the California Recall Election debate on the way home; there was Huffington, McClintock, Bustamonte, that Green Party guy, and Ahnuld. The questions were prerecorded, but that doesn't mean the debate was boring.

Quite on the contrary-- it was a real free-for-all. Lots of personal attacks, lots of wild accusations, lots of numbers flung back and forth with little regard for their accuracy or timeliness. The moderator-- whose name I have to find out, as he wrangled these guys with the acerbic aplomb of a Clive Anderson-- was hard put to it to keep them on-topic, for instance to keep a question about how to raise state revenues from circling around into a slam on another candidate's sexual morality.

Impressions: The Green Party guy was completely nuts, as I pretty much suspected he would be. He thinks the fact that the US is the only industrialized nation in the world not to have socialized medicine is the greatest scandal ever, and made doubly so by the fact that illegal immigrants aren't covered equally with citizens. He was so caught up in his weepy, marshmallowy, sit-on-a-hillside-and-feed-the-bunnies-with-manna-from-heaven fantasyland that the other guys pretty much just ignored him, as well they should have.

Ariana Huffington was the most grating-- not because she managed one way or another to turn every single question into an attack on Schwartzenegger (which was admittedly rather easy to do), but because she was so self-righteous. She got to wear the mantle of put-upon-writer-struggling-in-this workaday-world as well as the I'm-smarter-than-everybody-else-here smugness and the big-corporations-are-evil public appeal and the please-think-of-the-children unsassailable attitude, the latter of which, when questioned, she got to turn into a barb at Arnold and "the way he treats women". Arnie retorted, "I think I have a role for you in Terminator 4," but just as he was about to say what it was, my engine died because I was right at the metering light on the on-ramp and I wasn't paying attention when I let out the clutch, and by the time I got the radio back on, the whole crowd was roaring and the moderator was saying "Hey, now, this isn't Comedy Central." Shoot.

But Arnold, now that it comes to him, was the biggest disappointment. He didn't come across as stupid, or even lacking in appropriate experience; he just didn't seem to be taking the whole thing seriously. It's mostly his doing that the debate was so chaotic-- he engaged in as much gleeful mud-slinging as Huffington did, and a lot funnier ("Yeah, you know all about tax shelters, don't you-- you had one last year that I could drive my Hummer through"). The only problem was, he seemed unprepared, and the mud he slung wasn't exactly of proper consistency (Huffington had a perfectly good explanation for that "tax shelter", which she told him about point-blank). He clearly had a lot of facts and figures memorized, but I think his was the crashiest of crash courses in California politics and finance, because the other candidates constantly picked apart his numbers, corrected him, and challenged him with posers that he answered only with cleverly worded platitudes. "Why should the richest 4% of Californians be taxed at a lower rate than the poorest?" asked the Green Guy. "I'm not even asking for a progressive tax-- just a flat one. Why won't you simply agree with me on this one little point?" And Arnold responded by muttering about how Mr. Green should move to Massachusetts. He seemed, more than anybody else, to have been working from a script, and he didn't acquit himself particularly well. I'd been getting the impression for a while that he wasn't taking the election seriously enough to be able to win; but now I'm afraid he's not looking like someone I want to vote for.

Bustamonte reminded me of nobody so much as Brian, the dog from Family Guy. Constantly rolling his eyes, sighing, muttering "Yeah..." and "Uhhnh" and "Well...." over other candidates' statements. I'd have found this annoying, except that the reason why he usually had to do such a thing was to correct some factual error of Schwartzenegger's. Arnie accused Bustamonte of hypocrisy in advocating spending on education but then cutting hundreds of millions from the state education budget in consort with Gray Davis; Cruz carefully, and with admirable restraint, pointed out that he had been the author of the bill to inrease such spending; he even had to reiterate it after Arnie harped on it in rebuttal with some ramble about his after-school programs, which it seemed he was clinging to with some desperation as his last bargaining card.

"I'm the only one here who has been in business! Nobody else here has had to meet payroll or pay for employees' health care!"
"Uh, Arnold, that's not tr--"
"You know what you politicians do all the time? You--"
"<sigh> No, Arnold. What do we do?"
"You invent all these causes, you come in for a photo-op, and then you leave and are never seen again. I sponsored after-school programs for inner-city youth..."

...And so on. I really felt for the man after a while; but then he joined the throng with his position that illegal immigrants should not only be given drivers' licenses, but full medical coverage, social benefits, legal protection-- all that rot. And Huffington, in her smarmy I-can't-be-beholden-to-special-interests role, took him to task for giving preferential treatment to Indian gaming and other groups who'd heavily supported him. So he's no angel. The guy seemed the most like someone hard at work down in the trenches; at least he seemed sincere about his commitment to the job. But that doesn't make me want to vote for him.

The big surprise, though, was Tom McClintock. He impressed the hell out of me. He was the most concise, well-spoken, restrained, and effective speaker on the whole panel-- and what's more, he seemed alone in the group in having his head screwed on straight and California's priorities in order. When the question of health care and drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants came up, McClintock was the only one to give the debate its real name: allowing illegal immigrants special treatment. "Illegal immigration is the act of cutting in line," he said. While Green Man and Bustamonte and Huffington had spent a lyrical five minutes each crooning about how illegal immigrants are our biggest source of Cheap Labor (there's that term again), picking our vegetables and building our skyscrapers and digging our ditches and getting the least pay-- McClintock was the only one to point out that illegal immigration undermines the very process of legal immigration that's what makes this state so great. (Green Man had whimpered about how immigration was a human problem, not a legal one, and the very term illegal was unfair and barbaric when one thinks how every one of us, were we in the shoes of one of the Noble Ancient Inhabitants of This Continent and living in another country, would cross the border to get a better life For Our Children.) Huffington had smirkingly berated Arnold for opposing the drivers' licenses for illegals (sorry, undocumented immigrants) while he himself-- horror, shock!-- was an immigrant! But even Arnold didn't point out the crucial distinction: Arnold had come to this country legally. Arnold had followed the rules. Arnold had made the sacrifices that entitled a person to benefit from our State services-- whereas illegal immigrants are sneaking over the border and cheating the system that so many others are following so dutifully. But McClintock was the only one up there willing to stand up for our immigration laws (some of the most lenient in the world, already) and the virtues they exist to uphold. Arnie had only been able to ramble about how giving licenses to illegals presented a "security risk" because it didn't involve a background check. C'mon, Arnie. As a legal immigrant yourself, couldn't you have pointed out the ethical distinction between rewarding a person for working hard within the system, and rewarding a person for finding a way around it? ...McClintock was also the only one to stand up in favor of Prop. 54, which will prohibit the government from collecting any racial data on citizens. The Democrats and the Green Guy all said this was terrible-- how can we know we have a colorblind society if we don't collect information on everybody's skin color?-- and Arnie just rambled about how "equality is good"; only McClintock matter-of-factly stated that the only way we'll get a colorblind society is by stepping back and forcing ourselves to stop obsessing over race-- to become one "race", an American race, unified and equal under the law.

I'm afraid Arnie is cruising to lose my vote; he has his heart in the right place, and I think he could probably do well in the job as long as he put together a top-drawer team of advisers, because they'd sift the data for him and he would make the right decisions. But McClintock alone among the candidates showed himself not only to be principled and dedicated and intelligent, but also clear-sighted and able to do his own data-sifting. I still think it might be good for California to have someone like Arnie shake things up a bit, again, provided he has a crack team of handlers making sure he knows what his cards really and factually look like; I think he's a very smart guy, with a lot of things going for him. He just doesn't do too well when the spotlight's on him, which is really weird. My only worry is that he'd treat the governorship-- not like the WWF, but like Comedy Central, as Clive the Moderator said.

McClintock, I'm not sure if I trust him yet. I'll have to do a little more research to see whether his principles are tempered by humanity, or whether he's the kind of guy you've got to watch out for because he thinks he knows what's best for you. But he's scored big with me tonight.

UPDATE: Dammit, I can't compete with LGF's Dar ul Harb:

Next on Fox!

Celebrity catfight! Arianna Huffington tries to claw her way up from the bottom of the pile, but barely scratches the semi-synthetic skin of Governator Ahnold. Ahnold remains focused on protecting the "programs for the children."

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante anchors the opposite end of the dais from the Governator, exuding the powerfully subdued condescension field loaned to him by the Al Gore 2000 campaign, but it proves unable to radiate far enough to fully absorb Ahnold's charisma.

The Green Party's Peter Camejo, product of an unlikely fusion of genetic material obtained by space aliens from former New York mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Guliani, attempted to appeal to those Californians from "every planet on the Earth" --a highly sought-after group of voters still undecided about the recall, according to former Gov. Gray Davis.

State Sen. Tom McClintock stayed on his conservative message, and out of the Governator's line of fire, by an innovative strategy of answering the questions, which had been provided to the candidates in advance. This proved attractive to voters confused by the helleno-germanic crosstalk, and thankful for the clarity of McClintock's American English diction (even if he did bloody well curse in British during his answer about Sacramento's relationship to municipalities).

Can Governator Ahnold overcome the loss of conservative Republicans to McClintock, and go on to beat Bustamante, tackle the special interests in Sacramento, the state budget deficit, and the state's decaying infrastructure, while at the same time funding health care and afterschool programs for the children?

Or will Gov. Davis' parting words be "Et tu, Cruz?"

UPDATE: Or Frank J, either, though that should surprise nobody. Best line: "Arianna Huffington died as she lived: extremely off topic."

16:41 - Good corporate citizen

Just got a bulletin from the FreeBSD-Security list, as periodically happens; this one's an ARP DOS attack, a potential liability against attackers on the LAN. It affects all flavors of BSD. Middling risk, though not if you've got a well-controlled data center. Worth noting and patching.

But here's what caught my eye:

Hash: SHA1

FreeBSD-SA-03:14.arp Security Advisory
The FreeBSD Project

Topic: denial of service due to ARP resource starvation

Category: core
Module: sys
Announced: 2003-09-23
Credits: Apple Product Security <product-security@apple.com>
Affects: All releases of FreeBSD
FreeBSD 4-STABLE prior to the correction date
Corrected: 2003-09-23 16:42:59 UTC (RELENG_4, 4.9-PRERELEASE)
2003-09-23 20:08:42 UTC (RELENG_5_1, 5.1-RELEASE-p6)
2003-09-23 20:07:06 UTC (RELENG_5_0, 5.0-RELEASE-p15)
2003-09-23 16:44:58 UTC (RELENG_4_8, 4.8-RELEASE-p8)
2003-09-23 16:47:34 UTC (RELENG_4_7, 4.7-RELEASE-p18)
2003-09-23 16:49:46 UTC (RELENG_4_6, 4.6-RELEASE-p21)
2003-09-23 16:51:24 UTC (RELENG_4_5, 4.5-RELEASE-p33)
2003-09-23 16:52:45 UTC (RELENG_4_4, 4.4-RELEASE-p43)
2003-09-23 16:54:39 UTC (RELENG_4_3, 4.3-RELEASE-p39)
FreeBSD only: NO

What, you mean Apple is acting as a proactive contributor to the BSD/UNIX community?! A commercial computer vendor specializing in making dumbed-down Fisher-Price computers for melonheads? Doing valuable work for open-source UNIXdom? Who'da thunk?

15:18 - Making a scandal out of a scandal

I mentioned to my roommate the other day how the relentless negativity coming from all the news networks regarding post-war Iraq, even in the face of countless reports by returning servicemen (covered by bloggers but nobody in the major media) of the amazing progress and positive atmosphere there, has reached "scandal" proportions; he disagreed, saying that if nobody knew about it but bloggers, then it wasn't much of a scandal, was it?

Okay, point. But evidently the blogosphere isn't about to let that be the end of the matter.
Time for Bloggers to Fight a Front in the Real War

Poking fun at Glenn Reynolds has been amusing, but I think I have a real cause for us blog writers and blog readers to work for now.

As I've said before on my own site, I don't get legitimately angry that often, but one thing has been pissing me off lately, and that's the coverage of the war in the media. All we hear is the negative news, and everything is painted to make the war look like a failure. Yet, anytime I talk to one of our troops who has actually been in Iraq, the outlook is quite different. I hear how nice and thankful the Iraqi people are. I hear of all the progress that is being made. I hear of the schools the troops have help built, and how big Marines are sitting on teeter-totters and swing sets teaching Iraqi kids how to use them since those children have never had a playground before.

And I never hear any of this in the major media.

Some of this is just the habit of media to dwell on the negative, but not all of it. These are stories people want to hear, but too many news organizations have no interest in them. And I don't think I'm going to far out on limb to say some of them are purposely ignoring any good news to try to spin victory into failure. They are trying to fight a propaganda war.

Well, let's fight back.

Hear, hear. And the fact that this is Frank J leading the charge is quite something-- it's a real testament to how even the bloggers who are normally thought of as "humorists" (the blog world's equivalent of color commentators) might turn out to be the ones who really make a difference.

Now, it's encouraging to see that Dan Rather has begin issuing little disclaimers saying "Of course, in other parts of Iraq, things are going quite well", and Democratic lawmakers are starting to come out of the closet and admit that this incessant campaign on the part of the media to convince the American public that going to Iraq was a bad idea is, itself, counterproductive and indeed deeply, deeply insulting to our achievements and our true intentions. Yes, yes, everybody's leery of patriotic jingoism in the evening news. But it's entirely possible to go too far in the opposite direction, you know? And it should eventually occur to even the most cynical and self-despising liberal that anything that prolongs the resistance effort, encourages guerillas into thinking they can "pull a Mogadishu", or impedes reconstruction is just going to end up costing more American lives and dollars-- and if that doesn't soften their hearts, maybe the thought of a half-rebuilt Iraq plunging back into dictatorship and oppression just so the anti-Bush forces can prove a point will.

It's the 21st century, and there are still too many evil dictatorships out there. America and its allies finally did something about one. There was terrible murderous regime in Iraq oppressing 24 million people, and now that regime is gone and those people have hope. There are millions more who could use that hope as well, but there are forces out there to make sure that does not happen. They want to tell us we are losing. They want tell they enemy they are winning. This is no small thing. Public opinion, both in America and world wide, will affect the outcome of this war. If Iraq is seen as a victory, it could cause the collapse of more evil regimes because they'll know they are next. If it is seen as a failure - a “quagmire” -then evil is encouraged and strengthened.

Frank has instructions on what we can do. Fortunately there already seems to be traction building, and I think many Americans are starting to get tired of the cognitive dissonance between what they hear from their returning soldier sons and daughters about how well things are going in most of Iraq, and MoveOn.org claiming that:

" Congress must withhold the $87 billion requested by President Bush until he dismisses the team responsible for the quagmire in Iraq -- starting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- and ends the U.S. occupation of Iraq by transferring authority for rebuilding to the U.N. "

I mean, really. What outcome do you guys actually hope for? Why not say what you really feel?

So let's get some of those good ol' grass roots planted and dug in. If this is going to be a scandal, let's make it a scandal that'll make MonicaGate look like V-E Day.

12:03 - What, no G5-blogging yet?

Nope, not yet. I've been a little bit on the squeezed side since getting home yesterday, what with transferring all my old data across the network (12GB of MP3s and AACs, 20GB of DV projects, and assorted gigabytes of other detritus) and burning and installing the new seed build of Panther on the downstairs iMac. I've also not been exactly thrilled about the prospect of typing things using the new machine, because, well...

... Ahem.

Okay, see, one of the main reasons why I wanted to get a new machine was that it would be an excuse to get a new keyboard. Yeah, yeah, I could have just gone and gotten a new keyboard. I know. But it's a psychological thing, y'know? Package unity and all that. Besides, the computer itself was more compelling than the new keyboard; it was just icing to be able to type on a keyboard that's nice and new and has keys whose plastic pegs aren't worn down to sticky nubs like my old keyboard.

(I was also reluctant to get rid of that keyboard, sucky though it had become, because it's one of those old iMac-style keyboards that's about four inches shorter than the regular keyboards, with little chiclet arrow and F-keys-- a separate keypad, but a very small footprint. I liked it because I could slide it under my monitor, which if you know the geometry of the Cinema Displays is a pretty cool thing-- I liked being able to reclaim that desk space to write checks and things. But on my new desk, that isn't an issue, or possible, because a) the keyboard is in a tray, which I find acceptable now for some reason; and b) the monitor is on an adjustable platform, which means it's no longer contiguous with the desk surface. So I can safely get a full-sized keyboard and enjoy it without regret, finally.)

So yesterday I come home, find the Big Black Box (tripping over it with a Short Sharp Shock), drag it upstairs, slice it tremblingly open, lift out the big cardboard Mao-poster beauty-shot cover sheet, reveal the top piece of styrofoam into which all the accessories are nestled--

...And there's no keyboard.


So I'll call Sales Support in a few minutes and make them make it all better. But in the meantime, typing (using the old keyboard) is sort of a bittersweet pleasure: damn, these keys are tiny and sticky. But that text sure does respond fast.

Sigh. Anyway.

Fast? Yes, it's fast, thank you for asking. It makes me gulp. It makes me flutter my eyelids. It makes me roll around on the floor with snakes clutched in my fists. The first time it booted it had to grind the disk a bit, but the second time-- after all the caches had been set up and everything-- it went straight from black-POST-screen to gray-spinner-thing (about five seconds) to BLUEPROGRESSSCREENTOLOGIN. Seriously. It spent all of a third of a second on the progress-bar dialog screen. ZAP! BLUEBAR! GONE! And then the desktop's up. Made my heart leap into my throat, except it got distracted, lost its footing, and impaled itself on my sternum on the way up, and I had to squirm around under my desk for a few minutes listening in the dark to the sound of the computer's fans.

Did I mention that it's really really really quiet?

Seriously. It's frickin' quiet.

There are like nine fans in there, right? I mean, look at the internal architecture-- this thing is mutant. The fans both push and pull, the whole interior is divided into regions specifically optimized for airflow.... and those nine fans put out about as much noise as two iMacs. Which is to say, not bloody much.

I powered the thing on, and the fans went wwhhwwhhooooooOOOOOOOOOO-- (at this point I was thinking, oh great, it's louder than my G4-- then, suddenly, OOOOOoooghglooppphtmmmmmmmm. And it's over. There's so little noise that if I close the door to the compartment under the desk, I can barely tell it's on. It's not a vibratey whooooshing noise, either, like so many PC fans that I've been used to; rather, it's a turbine-like, humming, sideways, musical noise, with harmonics and a gentle texture, like a suspended chord-- it feels like being in that exhaust vent in Galaxy Quest. Like I'm in the middle of a spaceship that's somehow, oddly, alive-- but is making a big show of keeping quiet about it all in case the aliens hear.

Now, what's going to take some getting used to is the way these fans respond to CPU load. The more the computer does, the more the fans spin up. It's like having one of those CPU-load meters on your screen, but instead of visual feedback, it's auditory. I can tell exactly how loaded the thing is just by listening. (How... industrial.) The fans have yet to get to a level that I'd call loud, but the difference is definitely noticeable-- and if effects the changes in speed in a very graduated, analog way. I sync my IMAP mailboxes: mmmmwwwwwwooooowwwmmmmmm. I import a CD in Tunes: mmmmmmmRRRRRWWWWRRRRRRmmmmmmm. I connect to my old machine over the network, mount my scratch disk, and start downloading twelve gigabytes of music files, getting about ten megabytes per second, pegging the hundred-net, and some little fan somewhere in there mysteriously fires up its teeny little spindle so it's making a very high-pitched but very quiet ssssquueeeeeeeel-- you know, the kind of dog-hearing-range thing that you know you can hear, but that you're not sure any service tech would ever believe you about if you tried pointing it out to them. Like a big TV set that you just bought over your wife's objections for thousands of dollars, only to find out that it makes this unbearable eardrum-piercing electronic whine, which you know you'll have to just get used to in order to maintain your pride, or else take it ignominiously to the shop to have them rub their chins, replace a few miscellaneous unrelated parts that they have to back-order for six weeks, charge you five hundred bucks, take it home, and have the same whine appear (though you're sure at least it's a little bit quieter) as soon as you turn it on. But then the transfer completes, and EEEEEeeeeewwwwmmmmmm. All gone.

What, does the Ethernet chipset have its own fan? Or does AppleTalk have its own hardware subsystem? I can't figure that one out.

But anyway: importing that CD? 19x at the top end. Not bad. I was admittedly hoping for something like 25x-- but hell, I'm not complaining. Mail is laser-quick now-- I can just about hold down the "down" button and it'll process the read-status of all my notification messages in real-time, instead of like in the old one, where I had to wait for each one to finish exchanging data before I could scroll to the next one. All better now.

Flurry is a thing of beauty now.

Is it faster than a comparably priced Xeon-based Dell? Who knows? Apple says one thing, "L" says another, and I'm sure nobody knows the real answer, if there is such a thing. But PC Magazine did a head-to-head review and found that the G5 trounced the Dell in real-world applications like converting Word documents and converting images, but lost in most of the Photoshop trials. But it was a pretty close race in most of those numbers. (And the G5 did way better in Final Cut Pro! Nyuk, nyuk.) The upshot is that, well, it's pretty frickin' fast-- and the reviewers were favorable-- heavily-- on every subject except the keyboard and mouse. (Hardly surprising, that.)

When Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Power Mac G5 this summer as the fastest personal computer any company had built to date, we took it with a grain of salt. After all, Apple had made that boast in the past, and those claims did not tend to hold up when independent third parties (such as ourselves) ran tests on current, real-world applications (not the synthetic benchmark tests Apple cited).

Well, we'll take that salt with a side of fries. After testing a loaded ($4,349 direct, after we opted for more RAM and upgraded graphics) dual 2.0-GHz Power Mac G5 on a range of high-end content creation applications and comparing the results with a similarly configured (and priced) Dell Precision 650 Workstation running dual 3.06-GHz Xeon processors, we see that indeed the G5 is generally as fast as the best Intel-based workstations currently available.

And even better, the comments are full of people-- PC guys-- saying they might just have to give one of these puppies a try. It looks like Apple's done themselves proud.

(Wait. Is this thing still on? I can't hear anything.)

(Oh, wait. Yeah. I forgot already.)

Photos later.

Oh, and one more little bit of annoyance: the G5's slots are all PCI-X. Which is not backward-compatible with 5V PCI cards. Like my SCSI card.

So my scanner, that erstwhile Microtek 6400XL with its long-suffering SCSI cable, is at long last left high and dry.

I think this time I'll finally just take a big ol' swig at the suck pipe and sell it on Ebay, and pick up a 9800XL-- which is essentially the same scanner, except with FireWire. No more SCSI for me, thankyouverymuch. I think I've put in more than enough penance in dealing with that thing, and it's time to end my dependence on Adaptec's corporate mercy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
17:18 - Like No Other

Boy, these guys are something else.

"L" is apparently the brand name-- and they've evidently started up an ad campaign called "Like no other". Using a site design that's directly cribbed from Apple's, right down to the product-photos-against-white, the row of shiny tab/buttons at the top (except these are carefully designed to look like WinXP widgets, rather than Aqua ones), and the cutesy slogan captions everywhere. Of course they forgot the part about "don't make it so garish it hurts your eyes", but for the most part they followed the book quite faithfully.

Look at these monitors. "Cinerama Displays", they call 'em. (Now that's original. And isn't "Cinerama" copyrighted?) Three- and four-panel LCD banks, for that reeeeally widescreen feel.

And then there's this laptop: the Hollywood. 17". Widescreen. The "most spectacular, desirable, fastest, and full featured PC super-notebook ever built".

For a meager $2199-$5909 price range.

Here's Kris' take on its specs:
(H)x(W)x(D): 1.7"x15.4"x10.8"
"remarkably small frame at only 1.7" thin. " - quote
7.9lbs w/o Battery and Bay options
without the battery..... without the battery OR bay options... so loaded would be 10lbs?
Intel® P4 3.2GHz
battery would last, what? Maybe 2 minutes.
3.5 Floppy Drive
Built-in 3-Mode
a must for this century
Video Out
High-resolution S-Video Out with independent image settings controls
no DVI?
10/100 Ethernet LAN PCI Controller
gigabit - a bit too far?
Ultra-high performance air duct and FreeFlow™ architecture.
Variable speed-fan digital microprocessor control with multiple temperature sensing points.
High-density Multi-stage Methanol Copper Heatpipe CPU heatsink design with precision pressure plates.
Oversized double-blade Q-Fan architecture with adaptive vibration cancelling technology.
Independent Chipset/ Graphics Adapter and critical component Multi-distribution side heatsinks.
HD, DDR, and power supply electrical components independent air ducts.
which means it blows... and, uh, sucks...
CacheFlow ™Technology *
Upgradeable** or Built-in
from you to them?

Don't miss the tables where they explain how they beat the G5 in SPECfp and SPECint tests-- and not just that, but the Intel CPUs that Apple reported with scores of 646 and 693 show up here turning in a 1201 and a 1053. Fascinating. (I wonder what happened to the word "dual" in those scores.)

Even the background image shown on the screens of these machines and displays is a ripoff of the Mac OS X default screen. Oh, and they expect lots of disgruntled Mac users to come swooping down upon the site, because right at the top is this note:
Mac users only: You may experience linking errors when using the main navegation bar above, with both the Internet Explorer and Safari Browsers. We are looking into the issue and correcting it as soon as the technical issues have been identified. PC users are not affected by this.

Yeah, well, some companies don't seem to have trouble programming "navegation" bars.

(Did I mention that these guys' desktop machines start at $2999 and go up to $6369? Such a deal.)

No other PC in its category you compare it with, comes even closes. Nothing. Period. Truly, like no other.

Yeah, well... can you do this? <twirls around, does a handstand>


UPDATE: Chris points out that the discrepancy in the P4/Xeon SPEC numbers between what L and Apple claim probably stems from the much-publicized decision on Apple's part to use a non-optimized GCC; whereas L almost certainly used Intel's own compiler, which was probably hyperthreading-enabled. Thing is, the non-optimized GCC is intended to match the real world (PC software vendors couldn't exactly get away with shipping hyperthreading-optimized software to their whole customer base, where it wouldn't work at all).

Underhanded? Yeah. Likely? Who knows. But considering the number of typos and sloppy layout and deliberately misleading sleaze all over L's site, from which it becomes all but a self-parody, I have a hard time believing that their SPEC numbers-- alone in the site-- are trustworthy.

UPDATE: Jay Random writes with the following:

go-l.com is, of course, a hoax. Not an unamusing one, mind you. There is no such chip as the 3.8 GHz P4 they advertise on their top-end desktop; most of the other specs are faked, subtly or not so subtly, to make the weenies drool without actually being possible. The so-called -35ºC cooling system is a particular hoot. So is the 57" 'Cinerama Display' (but the trademark holders for Cinerama are reportedly not amused). The '3-D LCD' for the laptops is pure demented genius. Have you got your 3-D glasses ready, kids? Didn't think so.

The clincher: If you try to actually buy anything from their 'store', you will be absolutely defeated. The 'Store' button on the 'navegation' bar either takes you to the News page, or does nothing. If you click the text link at the bottom of the page, you reach an ostensible 'Store' page, but if you click any of the buttons to buy a product, the server ignores you. Your browser will tell you it's loading a page, but the page never loads -- & you never get a 404 error either. Also, the Visa, MC & Amex logos on the Store page are fake, a sure sign that 'l' has no merchant account with any of them & doesn't want them to sue.

I am told that the dummy corporation has been traced & the hoaxers identified. Enjoy the joke while it lasts.

Awww! I wanted a Grand Canyon display! I had $18,000 just burning a hole in my pocket!

That's one elaborate hoax, though. I'm particularly impressed by the careful engineering of the specs to make them both droolworthy and mockable at the same time. I suppose all the typos and miscoded JavaScript are also all part of the act?


16:43 - Someone's been busy

Just got the "New Music Tuesdays" e-mail from the iTunes Music Store. Popped open the "All Just Added" link, and... whoah! This is the biggest weekly addition of songs they've done since... ever. Easily several hundred albums, and probably thousands of songs. It took me ten minutes to scroll through them all.

Oddly, though, I hardly recognized any of them. There was hardly any pop or rock stuff in it-- some George Thorogood and Pearl Jam, but the vast majority of the listing was made up of bands with names with "Mountain" or "River" or "Boys" or "Brothers" in them. It's like, this week they decided to add the genre entirely populated with the cast of O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

And the albums by "Various Artists" (boy, that guy's prolific) were out in force too. Five whole screenfuls of albums-- each one a compilation or soundtrack, many of which were "inspirational", reggae, polka, Cajun... lots of underground-ish sorts of stuff. I half wonder if maybe this is the week where they've opened the floodgates for all those indie artists they've been furiously signing up.

It's Christmas every Tuesday in Mac-land.

15:27 - What? Already?

Just received word that there's a big black cardboard box waiting for me at home.

(I guess I can trust the people in Sales Support. After my ship date was bumped back a month, to "on or before 9/29", I called them up to see if they could tell me any further details. The lady said, "Expect to see it go out on the 22nd or 23rd." And lo and behold, it took them all of twelve hours after they sent the ship announcement e-mail.)

(Hang in there, James.)

Monday, September 22, 2003
23:45 - Vocabulary lesson

Here's a new word for you, kids: bias crime.

NEWARK, N.J. - Police are investigating a graffiti attack on several buildings on Rutgers University's main campus in New Brunswick, including a Jewish community center and a fraternity house, as a bias crime.

On Saturday morning, swastikas were found spray-painted on Rutgers Hillel. They were also painted on the porch and front door of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an historically Jewish fraternity.

Three other buildings were damaged by spray paint, but no swastikas were painted on them, police said.

Got that? Bias crime.

Like giving unfair news coverage to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, or like defending Sammy Sosa after the corked-bat thing because you're a Cubs fan.

Or like spray-painting swastikas on campus Hillel buildings.

Y'know. It's all just the same. Simple bias. That's all.

(Via LGF.)

23:23 - And this next player wants to hit the ball too. And he does! And everyone is happy! And there he goes, off in that direction.

Did anyone else happen to catch the Commonwealth Club address, recorded on the 19th, of Prince Bandar bin Sultan?

To hear him speak, America and Saudi Arabia are better friends than any other two countries on Earth. "Flattery sweet as honey dripped from his tongue," as they say. He threw the floor open, rather than "giving the party line" (his words), and fielded open questions from people about anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia and suchlike. He answered everything with Oxford-don loquacity; it's hard not to believe the guy.

Except when he says things like: "Unfortunately, Monday Morning quarterbacks are all over the place-- and I must note, I watch Monday Morning Football... I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan, and so I saw the game-- and was pleased with the result, I might add... anyway--"

Now, I admit I'm not as big a football fan (of America's Team™, no less) as Prince Bandar bin Madden, but isn't it Monday Night Football?

And he sounded so sincere...

15:29 - Meaningless mantras

I started thinking this morning (a dangerous pastime, I know) about the concept of "diversity". I'd been wondering just where all this Western self-loathing has come from-- this collective national guilt at sharing citizenship with the evil rich white males who run the wooorrrld-- and just sort of found myself pondering what leads people to plaster bumper stickers on their cars that plead for "diversity" above all other goals. If a rainbow-colored "Celebrate Diversity" sticker is alone on the back of a car, without even a "peace" symbol or that blue square thing with the yellow "equals" sign to accompany it, does that mean the person considers "diversity" to be the absolute most important thing this country has to work on? Or is it just a passive, feel-good way to say "Hey, I'm not a racist, not that you were gonna accuse me of being one or anything, oh, and I'm so sorry for being white"?

I'd like to know just since when a lack of diversity has been a problem, though? (I mean, we already have people from every planet on Earth in this state.) On NPR the other night, Sound Money was interviewing the chief of a Socially Responsible Investment mutual fund; and she said that one of the three big planks of what makes an SRI is that it buys companies that actively work to "promote diversity". Okay, um... maybe I just haven't been in the workforce long enough or worked at enough companies to notice, but-- it seems to me there's plenty of diversity in companies today. The engineering team at my company has members who are black, white, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Hispanic, Australian, Texan, and Hippie. In surprisingly equal measure. Know how many outreach programs the company engages in so as to be "socially conscious" in keeping ethnic balance in its hiring practices?

Okay, well, maybe that's because it's a technology company, and we hire anybody who's competent, because economically we can't afford not to. But I can drive down the street and look in the windows of businesses in strip malls, and you know what I don't see? Signs saying NO IRISH NEED APPLY or WHITES ONLY. Wonder why that could be?

Maybe because "diversity in the workplace" was a genuine goal that needed to be pursued about a hundred years ago, but now it's just a silly conceit. Like holding a picket rally demanding for cars to have four wheels, or supporting federal funding to get more kids to use the Internet.

The beauty of it is that no matter where you look, you see evidence that it must be working!

Whenever I see a "celebrate diversity" bumper sticker, then, or hear about some mutual fund that seeks out companies that actively try to "promote diversity", I get unbidden mental images of just what that means. Maybe I'll show up at work one of these days with a big cake, decorated with candy people in all different colors holding hands in a big circle. I'll go around and hand a piece to each member of the team, and say, "Boy, I'm sure glad you're      (race)     ! Thanks for being part of this company!" Then I'll go home and tell the guy who spent this morning with a couple of subcontractors jackhammering out the big concrete slabs from behind the house, "Hey, way to hire Hispanic people for menial labor! Kudos to you! I bet they'll appreciate it even more if you learn a few more than six words of Spanish!" And I'll pass out beers. Maybe I'll go back to my college, where Asian students outnumbered White ones by a pretty good margin, and demand that Admissions give more favorable treatment to Caucasian applicants. All in the name of Diversity!

It reminds me of a time when I was working at an ISP back in my hometown. There was this one customer, a thin, mousy guy on those arm-crutches that spoke of a past injury or malady-- your heart just went out to him. (This was in 1996, so the Internet was brand-new, and home users walking in to sign up typically had not the slightest clue what "going online" was all about. It was still the age when people had 286 boxes they'd bought in 1986, and they'd heard about this "Internet" thing that they could get on and have sex.) So this guy comes in and signs up for an account; he asks us in this slow, careful, halting voice that makes you wonder whether he's got some kind of mental impediment what all the details are to the process of getting information that's on these "web sites" he's heard about. He wants to find out information about healthful water systems, herbal healing, that sort of thing. He wants a regular user account; he wants unlimited hours. He even signs up for a domain name, which he plans to use in selling herbal holistic remedies or something. We spend about an hour teaching him how to do everything he's going to need to do, how to search for information on the Web, how to find the important sites for the interests he has and the business he wants to run; he keeps asking the same uncertain questions, sounding scared and overwhelmed. He takes his time to convey crucial words, like "in-for-mation"; he clearly has something very important in his head, and he's determined to get it, but something's just not quite gelling. Eventually, though, he seems timidly satisfied, pays for the account and services, stands up, and quivers his way back out of the office.

A week later, he appears again at our door. He has more questions. Specifically, he wants to know about "bulletin board systems". He's heard about BBSes as this other "thing" you can do with your modem. We look at him, brows furrowed. Well, we're an Internet provider; we don't have anything to do with BBSes. What do you want to go on them for, anyway?

And he wobbles, looks pleadingly from one of our faces to another, and says uncertainly, "Because... they have... in-for-mation..."

It's just a word he'd latched onto. Something that was already on the Internet in abundance beyond historical precedent, but that, to him, was something he always needed more of. Like diversity.

Look: "Diversity" is not something we need to actively work towards. Racist hiring practices are not a palpable problem anywhere in this country. If an incident of such a thing is discovered, it becomes-- or, I daresay, would become-- a huge scandal. We get far more negative blowback because of affirmative action and a desire to have "diversity" above all else (witness Jayson Blair) than because of anything that even hints of the things that affirmative action was supposedly supposed to combat. The cure has gone well into the worse-than-the-disease category.

And if someone tries to get me to buy into a "socially conscious investment" mutual fund, one whose paramount goals include stamping out that pervasive racism problem in publicly traded corporations' hiring policies in America, I'm going to smile, nod, and go and seek funds that are more interested in making money than in solving a problem that no longer exists.

UPDATE: John writes to say:

If you strive for excellence as your primary goal, you will attain diversity by default.

If you strive for diversity above all else, excellence will suffer.

Unless you are the NBA.

13:45 - World travelers

Via Tim Blair, a Canadian guy studying in San Francisco takes one of those globe-trotting, apologizing-for-America's-existence backpacking tours to discover what it's like in the places that we call evil:

In the end I just tried to absorb the situation and try to read as much as I could about it. I found out later, when he left the car, that he was a government official working in intelligence for the national broadcasting company. But he was not complaining about the conversation in the car, he was the one complaining about the government. His frustration was to the point where he was almost losing control, he needed to vent or he would burst.

Many of the people in the cabs in Tehran had the similar thoughts. "Tell George Bush to come and get rid of the mullahs for us." I was shocked by the openness of that statement. With one fellow I tried to discuss it with him in more detail to see if he really meant it or was just talking. I told him that if George Bush came and got rid of the Mullahs, it would not be to help the people of Iran; he would be coming for the oil. The fellow replied, "He can have the oil, its not doing us any good anyway and at least then we would be free."

Either way, I'm sure we can find it in our hearts to sell them some of that oil we've stolen from Iraq. At a modest markup, of course.

Oh, and I like this part:

Midway through the tour we stop for a refreshing beverage. I drink my juice and my guide, with a sly smile, tells me to look at my cup. I see that written on the side of it are the words "Down with USA". Ouch. I chuckle a little and tell him that's very interesting. He tells me to read the other side of the cup, which I see says "Down with Israel". He's smiling quite gleefully, like he just did something brilliant, and I'm laughing along with him, because it's so banal. I mean really, is that it? After that, I headed over to a friends home for some khoresh e seeb, and ghormeh sabzi.

Maybe the reason "why they hate us" is that although we've got it amazingly good here, we're squandering it with self-hatred. Our problem isn't chauvinism; it's the opposite. We live in a place the rest of the world dreams of living, but we're too blinded by guilt to appreciate it.

I suppose I'd hate us too.

Sunday, September 21, 2003
15:28 - Wild Blue Yonder

Done with that last stupid chapter; now just two more to go and I'm at the 75% deadline. Now I'm off to go flying around the bay with Chris; back later.

Saturday, September 20, 2003
15:10 - We wonders, yes we wonders

Remember when I was in the woods north of Toronto last month, and in a cabin at the camp site I found a sheaf of "Camp Songs" that had been rewritten with cheerful militant Islamic lyrics?

Well, well...

TORONTO - A Muslim youth organization that American counter-terrorism officials say was founded by Osama bin Laden's nephew has been operating in the Toronto area, the National Post has learned.

The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), established in the United States by Abdullah bin Laden, publishes literature promoting Islamic jihad and hatred of Jews, according to a senior investigator.

The Canadian branch, in Mississauga, operates under the supervision of the U.S. wing set up by Abdullah bin Laden, according to the group's own literature. Its headquarters is in Saudi Arabia.

In an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia, David Kane, a senior special agent with the Department of Homeland Security, quoted provocative sections of books published by WAMY. One of the books said, "Teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors, and teach them that our youngsters will liberate Palestine and al-Quds [Jerusalem] when they go back to Islam and make jihad for the sake of Allah."

Special Agent Kane said another book compiled and published by WAMY listed "Heroes of Palestine" who had been killed in attacks against Israelis, including a terrorist who hijacked a bus and drove it off a cliff, killing 14.

"The Jews are the enemies of the faithful, God and the angels," Special Agent Kane quoted another WAMY book, entitled A Handy Encyclopedia of Contemporary Religions and Sects, as saying. "The Jews are humanity's enemies; they foment immorality in this world; The Jews are deceitful, they say something but mean the exact opposite."

WAMY Canada runs a series of Islamic camps and pilgrimages for youth.

I'm sure it's just a bizarre coincidence.

Friday, September 19, 2003
15:35 - Good News Don't Sell

I'm sure it would come as a surprise to people who get their news via hearsay from chat-forum wags and syndicated cartoonists to hear that things in Iraq are actually going well-- quite well indeed. That despite yesterday's attack near Tikrit, insurgent violence is dropping quite precipitously (we're going for longer and longer periods without American deaths). That Baghdad has electrical power. That just about every town and city has a democratically elected council. That American soldiers even today, in mid-September 2003, are hailed from the sidewalks with cries of "We love America!" and "Thank you Bush!" as they drive through the streets of all but a few Tikriti strongholds. That despite the slant you get from CNN and ABC and just about everybody but Fox, the troops don't have to skulk from doorway to doorway for fear that every second-story window harbors a sniper sheltered by the Loyal Iraqi Patriots.

In fact, to hear the reporting from the major news organs and all the popular comic artists (who, of course, people are predisposed to believe anyway because they're funny), one might come to believe that Iraq is, in fact, a quagmire that we should retreat from immediately.

Trouble is, if we were to do so, the Iraqis would be really surprised. Not least at our rationale. Because from where they stand, the longer the Americans stay, the better.

Glenn Reynolds has put up a nice long roundup of all the latest scandals that have gone nicely unreported except in the blogosphere-- Andrew Gilligan's doctoring of his Palm Pilot's message dates, Christine Amanpour's whining about being "intimidated" by Fox News, initially anti-war federal judge Don Walter's brick-wall first-hand realization of just how right we were to go to Iraq.

These things are reaching the editorial pages, but it'll be some time before they appear above the fold. If ever.

Only by continuing to spread the word will that ever happen.

Of course, if humor can be used for evil, it can be used for good as well. Read Frank J.'s take. No, really.

"Why are you filming the G.I.’s helping school children?" CNN's Lefty Stevens asked Fox News's Melinda Hawkish, "There's no story there."

"I think people would be interested in how war and destruction has improved the lives of the Iraqis," Melinda answered.

"Bah! Only stories of failure are news worthy," Stevens answered. Nearby he saw a troop fall to the ground, and he and his cameraman quickly rushed over to film him. "Yet another troop has fallen in this burgeoning quagmire," Stevens narrated.

"I'm alright," said Private Gomer, standing up, "I just done tripped on a rock."

"Dammit!" Stevens exclaimed, "Well scream for us if you are more seriously wounded."


13:05 - Stealing Capitalism's Sooouuuul

This morning the guest on Forum was William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy. And with a title like that, you just know it's going to be one of those hours where I turn down the radio so I can hear the much more pleasant sounds coming from my VR6 all the way to work.

But, inevitably, the engine noise winds down as I come to the stop light after the off-ramp, and what is the guy doing but... holding gamely forth about how our society rewards all the wrong people for the jobs they do. "We have this artificial ladder of 'brain workers' and 'hand workers'," he says. "We have this idea that people who use their brains for a living are somehow better people, and that people who use their hands are to be looked down upon." He went on to explain how in order to make progress, we need to restructure society so that the people whose jobs we need are the ones who get paid the best, instead of those do-nothing parasites like corporate executives and scientists and stockbrokers and politicians. He noted that even brain surgeons do tedious repetitive work with their hands, while truck drivers and seamstresses and janitors all have an "intellectualizing process" in what they do. "One can ask the question of who in society we need more-- garbage collectors and sewer workers, or brain surgeons and bond traders? And frankly I'd have to say it's the garbage collectors!"

Unalloyed approval from the hostess and from the callers. Of course.

I parked and shut off the car before I could hear whether anyone called in to ask the following question, though: Why should a job that requires a $200,000 eight-year education be paid on an equal basis with a job that can be trained for in three days?

Y'know, just askin'.

I don't care how much society "needs" one job or another. Sure, we need people to flip our burgers, clean our streets, watch us while we sleep, and all the rest of the things Tyler Durden told the police chief guy while threatening to cut off his balls. Yes, I understand that unskilled labor is crucially important to the function of society.

But let's not kid ourselves, all right? There's no need to go all "noble savage" about people with menial, unglamorous jobs. I understand the temptation to get all weepy about the inequity of it all; why should Mr. White-Collar get paid six figures to sit behind a desk all day and type on a keyboard while his friend from high school digs ditches in the blazing sun for minimum wage? Oh, the humanity! And we need ditches to be dug; we don't need software to be written! ...Well, look: no matter how much you think the world should work, the supply and demand rules of economics apply to jobs the same as they do to everything else. Want to know why it costs an employer five bucks an hour to get a guy to swing a pickax, while it costs another employer $100,000 a year to get a guy to write C++ code? Um, because the people who are capable of swinging a pickax are more numerous than the ones who are capable of writing C++ code.

This is pretty rudimentary stuff. Why do I even need to explain it? Why are guys like Greider allowed to make hundreds of thousands of dollars writing books about how this fundamental theory of market economics is backwards and wrong and doesn't make sense?

Yes, we have a class system. We do. But it's one based not on accident of birth, or on inheritance, or on race or religion or gender-- but on merit. Tom Lehrer once started off his "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier" song with a monologue noting that our armed forces not only prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability. It was a rueful joke in 1959; but today some people actually seem to want to add that criterion to the list.

It's a hard thing to get past, I admit. Even Greg Kihn, on KFOX in the morning a couple of years ago, wondered why we should trust airport security to an underpaid unskilled workforce when we need to be manning those X-ray machines with our best and brightest? We need those people, by gum. And I had to e-mail him to point out that if the airports could afford to pay the guys at the security checkpoint a salary commensurate with the education that makes them "our best and brightest", then they'll take that job. But unless they do, why the hell should someone who has put in that kind of money and study and effort over the years-- specifically to enhance his earning power-- choose to stand behind a beeping archway for twelve hours a day, staring at a little black-and-white TV screen and waving a magnetic wand over little old ladies' armpits?

While, presumably, Microsoft hires bums off the street to write their flagship software?

...Wait. Maybe Greider's on to something there.

Anyway: the callers clearly weren't going to be any help; the first one said "Hi-- I've been the beneficiary of capitalism all my life, but I've noticed that in recent years especially, the Soul of Capitalism has gotten progressively more dark... I mean, who can deny that one of the main reasons for the war in Iraq was oil?"

Uh, I can, you dorktard. If we invaded Iraq to steal their oil so we can have cheap gas, then why the hell do I have to pay $2.25 a gallon at the pump? I want my Evil Capitalist Imperialist Oppressor dividend, dammit! What, do I have to drive around the back to get to the special pumps, the ones reserved for the members of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy? The ones where all the card-carrying demons in business suits fill up their SUVs and motorhomes and Palestinian-baby-threshing machines for a nickel a gallon, just like in the good old petticoats-buttoned-at-the-neck 50s?

Where do they get these people?

Oh, wait. It's California.

"My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state. We have the sons and daughters of every, of people from every planet, of every country on earth," [Governor Davis] said.

Never mind.

04:42 - Baghdad Blog

Ah yes: this is why I keep listening to NPR on the way home from work. It's because every so often, Terry Gross will have on some guest who's just too interesting to pass up. And I can hardly think of a more interesting candidate for the position than today's guest: Salam Pax.

I didn't get to hear the whole thing-- we were running back and forth getting lattices from Home Despot to finish up the fence with-- but what I did hear was most excellent. You get to hear about Salam's life and times, how good his English is, what it was like in Baghdad during the bombing (which, it must be noted, was a subject that Terry just kept goading and goading and hoping he would expand upon, but all he did was talk about how "precision bombs are just scarily accurate" and how the bombing and even the ground invasion of Baghdad proper were as nothing compared to how scared his fellow Iraqis were of the Ba'athist army and what they might do.)

The audio's all archived, so I'll be grabbing an hour tomorrow to absorb the whole thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2003
18:45 - Where do I get tickets?

Bill Whittle has some Big News.

As commenter "Blackfive" puts it, he's kicking in the gates of Hell.

11:34 - That's the stuff

Lileks has gotten in the habit of warning people off of his more screedish Bleats, because presumably a lot of people don't wanna read "all that political crap".

Whatever. When I see the words "Bail if you choose; see you tomorrow", I rub my hands together and pour myself a drink, grinning.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003
20:00 - 100W: A-OK

Also from Kris:

Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger came as close as he's likely to get before the chip's launch to admitting that 'Prescott', the next generation of the Pentium desktop processor, dissipates more than 100W of power.

Speaking to reporters at Intel Developer Forum in San Jose today, Gelsinger didn't confirm Prescott's alleged 103W power rating; but speaking about processors in general, he said: "100W for a desktop is OK".

If that's not managing expectations for Prescott, we don't know what is. That Intel believes it's fine for a desktop CPU to dissipate 20-odd Watt more power than today's Pentium 4 does, is a sign that future chips - e.g. Prescott - will indeed pump out rather more heat than an 85W 'Northwood' P4.

Gelsinger also said that 64-bit CPUs are overkill for the desktop.

Moving beyond 32-bit addressing is "really not needed for several more years", he told reporters attending the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose.

AMD, of course, isn't going to wait that long. Next week, the company will unveil its long-awaited 64-bit desktop processor, the Athlon 64. And, just a few weeks ago, Apple began shipping its Power Mac G5 desktop based on the 64-bit IBM PowerPC 970 processor.

But if Gelsinger's comments are anything to go by, Intel believes its rivals are coming to market too early.

"How many [users] have seen the crippling 640K4GB limit on their desktop PCs?" he asked. Today, he claimed, there aren't apps that need more than the 640K4GB offered by virtual memory schemes, let alone however much physical memory is available.

19:56 - Preparing for the Real World

Roger Born switched from a Mac to a PC. Because being on a Mac is like being in a private school, or taught at home: you don't get to learn how to cope in the real world.

Why is Windows so seductive? Windows gives me (and most everyone else) just a slight sense that everything works and is stable (I guess at first that is enough for most people starting out in computing, right?)

But the real secret is that Windows is just not safe. What an adrenaline rush!

I like to think of it like mountain climbing. Why climb a sheer cliff when you could be safe at home with your loved ones? Its the crazy thrill you get when your whole digital life is hanging over the edge of the precipice and you know you are hanging by your fingertips as you continue to push your computer to do more and more things, and get more and more work done without losing it all to the sudden and very unexpected Blue Screen of Death! This is addictive computing!


Think of it! Doesn't life kick you in the teeth when you least expect it? Do you think you are really immune to the theft of your possessions? Will it never happen to you that you are mugged sometime, somewhere? Your trusty Windows OS is there to remind you that life is neither fair nor lacking in sad surprises. Thank you, Billy Gates!

You have no idea how this helps me keep my perspective when I teach such realities to my incredulous students in my many college classes.

Life experience. For pennies on the dollar!

Via Kris.

16:48 - A thought

Further to the economics-ish blather from yesterday, I had the following get stuck in my brain like a kidney stone, so here it is:

Q: What is the primary function of a business?

Liberal: To give jobs to employees.
Conservative: To make money for the stockholders.
Free-Floating Whatever: To create goods & services.

This seems to tie a few things together...

Namely: If you accept that the primary reason for a business to exist is to employ people and give them money, then it follows that the business should sacrifice its bottom line for the sake of the employees-- give them raises, play along with unions, change what the company makes or sells-- whatever it takes to keep the employees happy, even if it kills the company to do so. But if you believe the business' purpose is to make money, then it's the business' duty to cut costs wherever possible, including in payroll (especially when you can increase efficiency while you're at it, as in employing a machine instead of a person).

But if you believe the company exists to create goods & services, then you do what's necessary to keep making the best products possible, whether that means sacrificing employee benefits or stockholder profits. Happy employees are important to making good products, and so is a healthy bottom line. You gotta maintain both.

But a company on a shoestring can make products by slashing costs and benefits and increasing efficiency; but it can't make anything if stockholders don't invest. I have to conclude that my free-floatingness, if you put it in a centrifuge and spun it up, would come to rest on the side of the stockholders, because while without workers all you have is dormant ideas on paper, without the bottom line you have nothing but lawsuits.

14:14 - Spread the word

I know online petitions are pretty much useless expressions of pique. But for what it's worth, this one is something I can get behind.

We believe that Verisign's history of technical incompetance, poor business ethics and disregard for the proper functioning of the Internet, including their most recent behaviour of including wildcard matches for the .net and .com domains, is just cause for withdrawing the .net and .com domains from Verisign's control.

I hope the author learns how to spell "incompetence" (neatly ironic there), but other than that...

UPDATE: There's also this one, which appears to be a bit further along.

13:28 - I want it myyyyyyy waaaaay

Mark forwards this TCS column by Glenn Reynolds:

Virginia Postrel has argued in her book, The Substance of Style, that aesthetic values are becoming a major driver -- perhaps the major new driver -- of economic activity. And I think she's right. It's easy to scoff at this, because aesthetics seem divorced from function: an ugly car gets you where you're going just as quickly and reliably as a pretty one, an ugly coat keeps you just as warm as a handsome one, and an ugly house keeps the rain off just as well as a showplace.

Nonetheless, attractiveness matters. We all know that an ugly spouse can be just as faithful and loving as a gorgeous one -- even, if popular legend is to be believed, more so -- but we nonetheless tend to choose mates whose looks we like. To my daughter and her friends, it's natural to spend a lot of time thinking about what looks good. And, judging by the attention that my nephews pay to the subjects of their interests (automobiles, airplanes, and, just starting, women) looks matter there, too.

Hmm. Could that be why people keep buying Macs, when they can clearly get something "good enough" for much less?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
18:50 - If I Only Had a Brain (It's a "Straw Man" reference, see)

This is interesting. I'm not sure how I got here-- closing my eyes and randomly clicking on things can have odd results-- but I seem to have landed on a self-proclaimed primer, at a site called "Conceptual Guerilla", for leftists to use in defeating the arguments of the right.

All you have to do, says the site, is understand that "right-wing ideology is just 'dime-store economics' – intended to dress their ideology up and make it look respectable. You don't really need to know much about economics to understand it. They certainly don't. It all gets down to two simple words. 'Cheap labor'."

Interesting. Because in just about all the bullet items he goes on to list, I find that I agree with his accusation-- but not with his assessment of the rationale for it. Every one mentions "cheap labor". But, oddly, though I find myself unable to refute the first sentence of each point, my reasoning has never once used the words "cheap labor" or "over a barrel".

Maybe that's because his thesis is based on a straw man of his own construction, and he's just too proud of himself to let go of it.

Just for fun, let's go through them one by one, shall we? Let's find out what a person who always used to consider himself a liberal, but who is now off in a free-floating la-la land, thinks in reaction to this guy's statements.

Cheap-labor conservatives don't like social spending or our "safety net". Why. Because when you're unemployed and desperate, corporations can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, they want you "over a barrel" and in a position to "work cheap or starve".

I don't like social spending or a "safety net"-- or more accurately, I'm wary of such things-- because they allow people to become complacent and live on the dole forever, constantly drawing down wealth that is created by others and forced out of their hands at the point of a W-2. The bigger and more generous a welfare system is, the less incentive its beneficiaries have to work, and the more comfortable it is for them to just keep receiving welfare forever, never becoming rehabilitated, never contributing to the economy in return.

Cheap-labor conservatives don't like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. Why. These reforms undo all of their efforts to keep you "over a barrel".

A minimum wage is fine and dandy. But raise it too high, and you get the same problem you have with an overenthusiastic welfare system: employers start to have to pay unskilled labor the same as they would skilled labor. How fair is that to the workers with skills? Money for a higher minimum wage has to come from somewhere-- namely, the wages of people whose work is worth more, and the operating costs of the company. Workers aren't the only ones who have to pay bills.

Cheap-labor conservatives like "free trade", NAFTA, GATT, etc. Why. Because there is a huge supply of desperately poor people in the third world, who are "over a barrel", and will work cheap.

I like free trade because it creates wealth and efficiency. Running a business where it's more expensive to do so is just stupid. That's why all the dot-coms in Silicon Valley registered their incorporation documents in Delaware-- the economic conditions are especially favorable there. That's why so many animation houses are leaving Hollywood and going to Japan and Korea and India. Not because the evil studio owners spun a globe, saw poor brown people on the other side, and rubbed their hands together cackling with glee; but because they could produce the same work for 1/3 the price, without having to deal with steep business taxes and union dues that are par for the course in California. I know a young director who's bringing his lifelong dream series to TV after years of effort. The only reason it's possible, though, is that he's having it animated in India; he'd never have been able to afford to make it here, without being part of the impermeable unionized Hollywood juggernaut. The artists? Maybe someone should ask the artists how they feel about being part of a growing global entertainment industry. They once called Termite Terrace a "sweatshop" too.

(Oh, and I love the implicit accusation that companies are giving jobs to poor brown people in other countries and thereby taking them away from good ol' white folks here at home-- and that this is a bad thing. Who's being ethnocentric now, hmm?)

Cheap-labor conservatives oppose a woman's right to choose. Why. Unwanted children are an economic burden that put poor women "over a barrel", forcing them to work cheap.

Uh? I don't oppose a woman's right to choose, but I understand the viewpoint of those who do. Oddly enough it usually seems to have something to do with "killing babies is wrong". I never once heard someone say they opposed abortion because unwanted babies kept women poor. I guess that's because I'm not truly part of the conspiracy yet, huh?

Cheap-labor conservatives don't like unions. Why. Because when labor "sticks together", wages go up. That's why workers unionize. Seems workers don't like being "over a barrel".

I don't like unions in industries where they're unnecessary-- white-collar corporations, professional disciplines, places where employees already have plenty of say in their lives. All unions do in those cases is create lucrative inefficiencies ("You can't change that light bulb-- you have to wait for the union electrician to come next month!") and prevent employers from firing anyone for cause or from laying anybody off when business is bad. The San Francisco MUNI bus system kills pedestrians in traffic accidents every year; yet the bus drivers involved are never prosecuted, nor even lose their jobs, because of the bus drivers' union. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think that sucks. (This has to do with "fairness" and "justice", not "keeping workers over a barrel".) And in European industries where unions are powerful, companies can't lay anybody off during economic downturns, or even reduce wages, so instead they go spectacularly bankrupt. And they can't hire aggressively in upturns, for fear of having this unfireable workforce if the market should go sour, which means they can't take advantage of market opportunities (the way that, say, the dot-com boom took off here, when companies couldn't even hire fast enough to support the explosion). Such union-dominated companies can't innovate, can't capitalize on their opportunities, can't invest, can't create wealth. That too, I believe, sucks. (This has to do with "promoting innovation and competition" and "responsible financial policy", not "keeping workers over a barrel".)

Cheap-labor conservatives constantly bray about "morality", "virtue", "respect for authority", "hard work" and other "values". Why. So they can blame your being "over a barrel" on your own "immorality", lack of "values" and "poor choices".

I constantly bray about "morality", "virtue", "respect for authority" (wait, do I?), "hard work" and other "values" because they form the core of our society. We reward hard work and revile laziness. That's because those who work hard create wealth and drive economic and technological progress; whereas those who don't, don't. We as a people respect creativity, ingenuity, and the self-made man. Some countries find this surprising. I don't, however. Because the alternative is to punish those who work hard by giving their winnings to those who don't work hard. And I don't find that very fair.

To say nothing of what happens to the incentive for achievement. Why should I open a business to sell my new invention, if I'm just going to lose all my profits in taxes that go to chronic welfare recipients? Why should I bother trying to get ahead at work so I can send my kid to college, if Joe Schmoe can get the same thing by asking the government for a tax-supported handout? Why should I work to make my family and community richer if I'll get penalized for doing so? It's the same thing that we'll have to deal with now thanks to Davis' vote-pandering legislation: Why should I wait for years and work hard and save a ton of money to enter the US legally and get that coveted legal California driver's license, if someone else can just sneak over the border and get one of his own for free?

I've been spending every evening for the past six weeks writing a new book that will probably top 600 pages when I'm done. I have two months on contract to produce it. This means approximately six hours of intensive writing every single night, while I simultaneously try to do home renovation work to get the backyard and kitchen and new master suite all shipshape. And that's on top of my 40-hour-plus day job. This is called hard work. I'm being offered a nice hefty advance and very favorable royalty rates in compensation for the writing effort, which is ostensibly why I'm doing it. But I'm going to have to earmark fully half of that take to be mailed back to the government next April, there to be distributed to the pockets of people who say quite proudly that jobs are for suckers. Know what? It makes me feel like they're right.

Cheap-labor conservatives encourage racism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Why? Bigotry among wage earners distracts them, and keeps them from recognizing their common interests as wage earners.

Wow. Even the right-wing bigots that I've heard from over the years have never said anything like this. There's that conspiracy again, eh?

I'd love for workers who are "over a barrel" not to be. If they lift themselves up and create and achieve, they contribute more to society as a whole. I have no interest whatsoever in holding such people down where they can't get anywhere. Cheap labor is an interesting thing to have, but I have no illusion that it's some sort of inviolable resource that must be kept at a certain level of supply lest the Business Fatcats come crashing down from their pedestals. Why? Because a worker who chooses to achieve-- by getting a better job, inventing something new, opening a business of his own-- will create more wealth for society than it costs society to lose him as "cheap labor".

Economics isn't a zero-sum game. Wealth is created all the time. What I think the Left seems to believe is that there's a fixed amount of wealth in the world, and it can either be distributed evenly or unevenly, fairly or unfairly. But that's not the case. Every time someone creates something that's worth more to the company or to society than he gets paid, wealth is created. This happens all the time-- an astonishing amount. It's because the human brain is a wealth factory-- a miraculous perpetual-motion machine that can defy physics by generating new ideas that are worth more to the world than the cost of the food and oxygen you shovel into it. It's how this world continues to grow and become an ever better place to live. Such a thing wouldn't happen if we had "conservation of wealth".

I'm in favor of those policies which will lead to more creation of wealth, regardless of who does the creating. Because the benefits are felt by everybody in society.

Phew. I didn't even bother reading the article further; just more of the same straw men standing in a neat row in the cornfield, accusing me of seeing the world in terms of "cheap labor", and of keeping poor workers "over a barrel". But with that premise to start from, I'm pretty confident that whoever he's talking about, it ain't me.

15:36 - Et tu, Stevé?

I just got an e-mail notice that my .Mac membership was about to be automatically renewed, but that my credit card info needed to be updated. Fine, all well and good.

But in the middle of the e-mail, in the midst of where they were showering me with reasons why I should stay a member, was this:

In addition, for a limited time, we invite you to choose one of the great free gifts listed below to be sent to you after your .Mac membership renews on October 14, 2003 PDT! Just click the Claim Offer link on your Account Settings page after you have updated your credit card.

• A free copy of The Sims™ (Macintosh version), the best-selling game of all time for both the Mac and the PC (US$49.95 retail value)*
• A free copy of EverQuest® (Macintosh edition on DVD), the world's #1 online multiplayer adventure, including a free month of play time (US$49.95 retail value)*
• US$20 off your next purchase of more than US$20 at the online Apple Store

Aaarrgh! Apple's pushing EverQuest now! Fie! Fie for shame! Boo! Hiss!

I'll take the $20, thank you.

13:13 - There's the missing sibling


That's more like it. The TiBook is dead; long live the new PowerBook family.

Nothing especially new, except for FireWire 800, USB 2.0 High-Speed Enhanced Mode XP (The Fast Kind™), AirPort Extreme, SuperDrives across the board, DVI out, the backlit keyboard available on more models, and built-in Bluetooth. It's a teeny bit thicker than the old one (1.1" thick), but it's aluminum, so stiffness and AirPort range should both be improved. (Titanium was an interesting idea, but I'm sure it caused more trouble than it was worth. Boy, I heard some stories about the travails Apple had to go through to figure out how to machine the cases. Titanium doesn't exactly stamp or roll easily.)

But they also seem to have taken the opportunity to introduce wireless Bluetooth-based keyboards and mice.

These new Bluetooth-based peripherals use adaptive frequency hopping to give you reliable wireless performance from a range of up to 30 feet, and offer secure 128-bit, over-the-air encryption — keeping sensitive information safe while you’re typing it.

Nice. I can't see it being useful to me, and I'm still leery of input devices that require batteries; but the encryption is a good thing, as is the Bluetooth-- laggy input has always been a problem with the traditional radio-based devices. And I'm sure the wireless mouse especially will be of interest to laptop users; Apple's mice (and those sold by third-parties, too, like Macally) are notorious for their short cords, and having the USB plugs on the left side of the laptops isn't a great design choice if you're right-handed and want to use a mouse.

Maybe it'll quiet those people who said "it seems absurd that Apple didn't use a wireless keyboard and mouse" in the iMac when it was released last January.


Monday, September 15, 2003
21:03 - asdfsafdfsd.com

Great. Just great.

As of a little while ago (it is around 7:45 PM US Eastern on Mon 15 Sep 2003 as I write this), VeriSign added a wildcard A record to the .COM and .NET TLD DNS zones. The IP address returned is, which reverses to sitefinder.verisign.com. What that means in plain English is that most mis-typed domain names that would formerly have resulted in a helpful error message now results in a VeriSign advertising opportunity. For example, if my domain name was 'somecompany.com,' and somebody typed 'soemcompany.com' by mistake, they would get VeriSign's advertising.

Which means that if you try to telnet to any non-existent or mistyped domain name, it'll hang and time-out because the host doesn't respond to telnet SYN packets, even just to say "connection refused". And Microsoft will never be able to redirect Web users to their own host-not-found/search page again. VeriSign has just broken about a zillion people's network management scripts.

This will have the immediate effect of making network trouble-shooting much more difficult. Before, a mis-typed domain name in an email address, web browser, or other network configuration item would result in an obvious error message. You might not have known what to do about it, but at least you knew something was wrong. Now, though, you will have to guess. Every time.

Some have pointed out that this will make an important anti-spam check impossible. A common anti-spam measure is to check and make sure the domain name of the sender really exists. (While this is easy to force, every little bit helps.) Since all .COM and .NET domain names now exist, that anti-spam check is useless.

VeriSign/Network Solutions needs to be stripped of their custodianship of .com/.net domains, immediately. This is a horrible, horrible step on their part, and the only reason they could have thought they'd get away with it is that they're a monopoly.

Let's make sure they didn't guess right.

Chris has found that they're actually running an SMTP server on port 25 on the host all nonexistent domains now resolve to. A partially functional one. It accepts two SMTP commands, gives OK response to both, and then returns a 550 error. Regardless of the commands you enter, or what order they're in. They're assuming you're going HELO/MAIL/RCPT, when you could be going MAIL/RCPT or HELO/EXPN/MAIL or something else. There's no way their setup could possibly work-- it's set up never to work. Why would they have it online? What possible reason could they have? Aside from complete and utter brain death?

19:28 - Censorship: American Style

Some countries censor their citizens to prevent them from discussing events and ideas which might make the State look bad. Some countries silence teachers in their schools who might tell their students that their country might be in the wrong.

And here in AmeriKKKa, our public schools deny teachers the right to discuss the most important event in our recent history in such a way as to portray the country as being in the right.

Ritter on Wednesday showed his class of 13- and 14-year-old students a CNN-produced video that included images of Sept. 11 victims leaping from windows. He did not have district approval to show the video, Amole said.

Jeanette Washington, a student curriculum administrator, dropped by Ritter's classroom while he was playing the video "America Remembers," and Ritter later was called out of class to meet with principal Cynde Fischer.

Ritter said he agreed not to show the video again. After a meeting Wednesday afternoon he understood he could answer questions only about Sept. 11, but he went to school Thursday with other anniversary activities planned just in case, he said.

That morning, he said, Fischer told him he must limit his Sept. 11 discussion to the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, and then move to a regular lesson about the foundation of American government.

"I did not feel it was an option for me to explore other Sept. 11 (topics)," he said.

School officials told him they would sit in on the class, and when he protested, they told him he could follow their directions or leave, Ritter said.

When he went downstairs to think about it, he returned and Fischer told him to leave, he said.

He returned for a regular day of work Friday, but administrators asked him to leave again, he said.

Minders. Right here at home. To make sure he doesn't teach his students about the attack on the World Trade Center.

Our future isn't just a Nerf world. It's a Nerf world run by Big Brother.

(Via LGF.)

19:04 - One would think they planned it this way

Oh, brother.

A federal appeals court Monday ordered California officials to halt preparations for the October 7 gubernatorial recall election, citing concerns about a "hurried, constitutionally infirm" process.

Specifically, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the state needed to upgrade its voting equipment first.

"The inherent defects in the system are such that approximately 40,000 voters who travel to the polls and cast their ballot will not have their vote counted at all," the court ruled, citing voting machines that the secretary of state's office has declared unfit.

Interesting. So I suppose all previous elections which were carried out using archaic systems similar to California's Pleistocene punch-card system are also hereby to be considered null and void, yesno? Including the one that elected Davis in the first place?

What I find more teeth-gritting about this is that all the bizarre eleventh-hour vote-pandering legislation that Davis has been pushing through in the past few weeks-- like giving legal driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and requiring catalytic converters on lawnmowers, which will probably mean lawnmowers' O2 sensors will now all start burning out and requiring $500 repairs every six months-- will not be immediately and painfully repealed by whatever saner candidate steps into his seat, as a little nasty-gram-to-the-new-guy, welcome aboard-- have fun dealing with this, as planned. Instead, these travesties will stand.

If Davis has used the recall as a cover for this flurry of ludicrous and otherwise impossible lawmaking, only to emerge smelling like a rose thanks to the Ninth Circuit, even Arnie won't be able to save us.

18:56 - Hammer drills both kick, and suck, ass

My arm, leg, and abdomen muscles all agree this is so.

But all the holes are now drilled in the concrete-brick wall along the back of the property, and the pressure-treated 4x4s are all mounted with 10" carriage bolts, and the cement piers and posts are all painted a deep terra-cotta reddish-brown. That's so the crosspieces can be attached between them, and then the piers can be covered with vertical trellis pieces, which then will stretch across the top. The brown will show through the trellises on the way up, but the rest of the white wall will be covered with redwood planks.

The backyard's still a mess, but it's starting to take shape. Slowly. Surely.

Photos. I need photos.

Friday, September 12, 2003
03:36 - Politics from the Land of Make-Believe, with flowers and bells and leprechauns and magic frogs with funny little hats

Still getting caught back up on all those newsgroup discussions. And lo and behold, on 8/6 there was an "anniversary" piece for the Hiroshima bombing. Centered around and juxtaposed with Bush's statement after we mistakenly bombed that wedding in Afghanistan.

"Fat Man and Little Boy Say: Civilian Casualties Are Unavoidable!", copperplated brashly in the circular border surrounding an iconic, eroticized "riding the bomb" image we all know from Dr. Strangelove.

Followups included deep sentiments like "Bush must be getting better at sticking feet in his mouth."

God, I'm getting tired of this crap.

Civilian casualties are unavoidable. Yeah, so? They bleeding well are.

Especially when the civilians in question are in the immediate vicinity of al Qaeda strongholds, and firing machine guns into the air when there are spotter planes about.

But no, it's all of a piece with Hiroshima. Which was itself just another piece of unwarranted American brutality, to be mocked and satirized and vilified fifty years on.

I honestly don't know what to make of these guys anymore. They seem to have just enough historical awareness to enable them to make accurate reference to dates and events and quotes artfully out of context, but they're totally lacking in the moral weights and balances that underly these decisions ensconced in their circumstances. I can't dismiss it all as simply people regurgitating sound bites they think are cute and visuals they think make for good irony; but nor can I believe that they have all the information necessary and yet have arrived at these dumbfounding ethical conclusions about America's role in the world and conduct during war.

Without knowing which case it is, I can't know whether these people simply want more tactical perfection and more moral consistency in US actions, or if they simply want the US to go away and take its poisonous history and culture with it.

On that note, I seriously need some sleep.

18:46 - ...Or the terrorists win

Damien Del Russo has a rather different take on "getting over it":

But that was then - now, I hardly think about it. Weeks go by when Sept. 11th doesn't enter my mind - even media references slide by. And, I think that's fine. Of course I would be much more concerned if our government weren't doing something about it. But even though some of the methods are stupid (e.g. silly airport security) or ineffective, the main action - taking the fight to the terrorists and West-haters in the Middle East - is going well. I trust our military to do the job there, and that's the most important thing at this point. So, I'll do my home improvements, take my daughter for evening walks on perfect days in September, and go on living the good life we have here, now. There's never been a better time to be alive, and if terrorists and dictators had their way, it would be downhill from here. But that won't happen, because we, the victims of 9/11 - Americans - won't let it happen.

Next year, I'll probably write about my daughter, or football. My best hope is that we can continue to remember Sept 11th, as opposed to suffering another national tragedy - that's the best measure of our success and resilience. Never again.

I can get behind that.

18:07 - Pods Untie

Wow! Check out this bandwagon. Hot on the heels of VW's Pods Unite campaign, where they sell you an iPod and matching tape-adapter-based kit with your New Beetle, comes an offer that one-ups it quite neatly: Smart, the French city-car maker, is integrating iPods into their cars, and rather artfully at that.

Apparently this is being done in multiple Smart models, because these pictures show a different kind of console and mounting system than the one above (the MacBidouille site has photos of the iPod being mounted in a little shelf, with an attached radio transmitter, whereas the image above shows a more integrated cradle with audio connected to an auxiliary input port, a bottom-side connector-- so you can read the display properly, how 'bout that-- and power coming straight from the car). More pictures (and a nice close-up) are here.

The big question: whether an iPod or XM Radio will be the audio geek-toy of choice over the coming automotive year?

14:33 - Innocent Infant Artists

Normally I don't get to hear the locally-produced, Asian-interest program Pacific Time on my NPR station, because it comes on about a half-hour before I usually leave work. But some days I manage to catch it, because I'm on the road early, for whatever reason.

Usually the show is quite interesting-- and not just because of the funky Sino-rock theme music or the kookily endearing coverage of protests and concerts by Asian activists to "help the North Korean people who are suffering under American oppression". There are some real and worthwhile viewpoints to be had, things the show is frankly quite right to say I don't normally hear in the mainstream news. (Though the question of whether the importation of rice into Japan by Japanese-Americans is a larger issue to most people in the US than, say, Laci Petersen is surely up for debate.)

But yesterday I skipped out early to attend a dinner party up in Berkeley with some old high-school friends, the same ones I'd spent that day on the boat with a couple of weeks ago. (Zachary's Pizza, man. Mmm-mmm.) And that meant I hit the traffic snags in the partially-constructed 237-880 interchange, reducing my speed to a crawl and my engine noise to the level where I could hear the radio, just as Pacific Time came on.

Since the start of the Palestinian intifada and the September 11 attacks, the angry voices of political Islam that have shouted lthe oudest from the Muslim world. But there is a more conciliatory voice urging peace and dialogue with the West, and unequivocally condemning terrorism in all its forms. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a recent conference of mainstream and progressive Islamic scholars put out a message of moderation.

That's the summary of the first segment, as given on the website. And it was quite honestly one of the most refreshing things I've heard in a very long time. Conferences of moderate Muslims, actively coming together to figure out how to combat fundamentalism. An acknowledgment that radical Islam teaches that innovation and new ideas are wrong, an idea which these moderates think is ridiculous-- "You can't develop without new ideas." They talked about the Qur'an admonishing Muslims to seek out not just religious knowledge, but a second kind of knowledge as well-- scientific and technological and medical knowledge-- which, oddly, is something that's completely neglected by Taliban-style theocracies. The Malays interviewed said that they have a long way to go, but that they see 9/11 and the war in Iraq as a turning point for modern Islam-- and a positive one, even. "Radical Muslims have had this idea that by extreme faith, by sacrificing themselves, they can change history. But now, after 9/11 and Iraq, they're starting to realize that they cannot write history in this world." I'm paraphrasing, but that's what the guy more or less said. He sounded wry and optimistic, too, not as fatalistic as my flawed paraphrasing sounds. (Listen to the archived audio if you're interested. This first segment at least is quite worthwhile, and I found it hit the spot yesterday in particular.)

But then... oh, then. Then there was this second segment:

The U.S. has imposed stricter immigration measures since September 11, 2001. While some American artists are able to travel to Indonesia to participate in cultural exchange projects, Indonesian artists have faced a tough time getting U.S. visas.

A bunch of love-beaded American artists, mostly female by the choice of interviewees, departed immediately after 9/11/01 to go to Indonesia, bringing messages of cultural exchange and tolerance and bright pretty colors. They would ride to locations on little scooters, perch on rickety bamboo ladders, and paint huge murals of flowers and butterflies and birds with their Indonesian counterparts, and thereby gain a better understanding of Muslims and Islam in the post-WTC world.

My first reaction was, hey, why Indonesia? Why not go to Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and try this?

The artists, of course, when prompted with a microphone, held forth with great vigor about how wonderful a people the Indonesians were-- how the artists had felt great trepidation about going to a Muslim country post-9/11, but found upon getting there that everybody was just so nice and welcoming and generous and laid-back, and how after a few weeks of living there, they found themselves becoming similarly at ease, the stress and cares of their lives back in America slipping away. "They would drive us around on their scooters every day, and paint with us," one breathy-teen-voiced participant said. "Not being able to reciprocate just made me feel really bad. I felt that these people deserved to be able to, you know, like, travel... much more than I do."

One of them mused in doleful, singsong voice about how badly she wanted her new Indonesian friends to be able to come to the US for their art-exchange program tour. "I want to show them so many things about America. I want them to see all the things that I hate... and then I want to share some things about my childhood and community."

Geez, don't fall all over yourself with jingoism there, you chauvinistic American.

And the big story in this segment was about how the Indonesian artists, when they tried to get their visas to enter the US, faced such a horrible police-state atmosphere that the listener can't imagine why anyone would ever want to enter such a place. As the narrator ominously intoned, young men coming from Muslim countries were suspect. "The interview process was humiliating," one Indonesian artist said. "When you come into our country, it's all based on this idea of, like, friendship and goodwill. But just to go to the US Embassy, it's all surrounded with barbed wire-- it's like going into a war zone. And the entry interview-- I thought it was going to be, you know, a normal conversation. Not like where you go up to a counter to buy a ticket."

I hope Ashcroft and Tom Ridge get the message: 9/11-like rage against America is caused by long lines at Customs.

But they got their visas, and they did their tour of the US, and they showed off their murals and paintings of birds and flowers and trees and butterflies, and it was a big hit. But the stress got to be just too much, and the artists retired to a back alley after a show to smoke and drink and talk.

One of them picked up a cut-out letter E from the ground. So they all started naming words that begin with E. At first it was simple words: entertainment, and easy. Then it went on to more complicated words: eternal, and endless. Soon, though, the reality of the present began to hit home, with words like exit permit and entry visa. Then words like excluded and expelled. And finally, words like embassy... and evil... and empire.

Yeah, excellent. Emissaries with easels, explaining "evil" to expatriates whose experience has been expunged of events in East Timor.

"One-Way Cultural Exchange Between U.S. and Indonesia" is the name of this second segment. Yeah, I'd say that's about right. Only one side learned anything.

Thursday, September 11, 2003
15:39 - Understanding


13) Check your weapon before you leave and long before you leave. (You must make your knife sharp and must not discomfort your animal during the slaughter).

Via LGF.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
23:50 - My chest hurts

Fark's topic today: Microsoft High.

18:12 - Perspective and soda

Tim Blair:

The Associated Press reports from Jerusalem:

On the eve of his daughter's wedding, Dr. David Applebaum sat with the young woman late into the evening at a coffee house, offering fatherly advice on marriage before her big day.

Father and daughter were killed late Tuesday when a suicide bomber struck the cafe - one of two attacks that left 15 people dead.

Applebaum had just flown back to Israel after giving a talk at a New York terrorism symposium marking the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Dr. Applebaum was the founder and director of Jerusalem’s TEREM emergency medical centres. His daughter's funeral will be held on the day she was to be married.

Oh, but I'm sure the AP and Reuters will find a way to tell a similar story of irony and woe and loving family life cut barbarously short when the IDF finally gets Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Mahmoud Zahar.

You know it'll happen.

18:03 - Another day...

...Another three Microsoft security holes.

16:06 - If you can't say anything nice...

Do they have even the slightest idea how offensive this is? How deeply, deeply wrongheaded and inhuman?

Of course not, because we don't preach our outrage on state-sponsored TV. That's not what we do here in the Civilized World. We have to bottle up our anger, you see. We have to keep quiet, smile, take deep breaths, dispense our feelings in small measured doses with warning labels. Because to do otherwise would be hubris.

That's what being Western is all about, apparently. Turning the other cheek. Appeasement. Peace at all costs. Absorbing insult and attack without retaliation.

I think I can still do it. But it's getting awfully hard.

(Just imagine, as a thought experiment, what it would be like if America had responded to 9/11 the way that, say, the Palestinians would have.)

15:40 - Just shut up, McGruder

Yet another of those things that only sounds ridiculous if you don't think about it.

Right. It can't be something based on actual science, something that's a lot more complex than can be explained in a three-panel comic strip. It must be because those Republicans are so DumbEvilStupid™ that they're willing to invent a Topsy-Turvy Town where environmentalist language can be used to justify their desire to cut down trees just because they... hate trees.

Or whatever.

13:47 - Stay Angry

Tim Blair found this piece. He says it's that "one thing" that you should read if you only read one 9/11 piece, but there seem to be too many of those to only pick one. (Seems we've already well and truly taken care of that problem identified a couple of weeks ago-- namely, that none of the "official" entertainment organs were planning commemorative pieces. All hail the grass roots, eh?)

Growing anger, anger that got bigger after seeing the images. No wonder they have disappeared. GOD forbid that Americans get angry. We have to stay passive, we have to crumple up handkerchiefs in agony, we have to blubber and mourn the loss. But righteous anger is to be avoided. Americans cannot be trusted to handle their anger. Anger is BAD, right? Anger is NEGATIVE. We have to try to understand WHY, we have to try to see the other side's point of view.

Well, you know what? I do see the other side's point of view, and I hate their point of view. It's like that great Dennis Miller quote from his recent HBO special: "You know what? I hated religious fanatics who wanted to murder me on September 10, okay?"

"Understanding" is not the key to everything. You can understand something and hate it with all your heart just the same. As a matter of fact, the MORE I understand the reasoning of the thugs on those planes, and the ideology behind them, the MORE I hate them.

Seeing those images again made me outraged at those of us who chide others to get over it. I am stunned that anyone could ever look at the carnage on that footage (and I saw the whole damn thing with my actual eyes) - and somehow ... not be changed. Get OVER IT? What? Are you out of your goddamned freaking mind? What is the MATTER with you?

I was a little miffed at myself for so quickly condemning PBS as a whole after that "Muhammad: Portrait of a Peaceful Leader of a Peaceful Religion" or whatever it was, a couple of Decembers ago. But seeing the spreading reaction to this 9/11 special, I'm glad again that I haven't wasted any thought on PBS since then.

On the other hand, I'm glad someone is keeping an eye on them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003
23:30 - We need role models

This piece is getting linked from all over, and with good reason. I guess it's because things like this have come to light in the past two years that I feel as though anything I myself could add or write would just cheapen things.

If you read only one emotional and inspiring story and learn only one name tihs September, though, you could do far, far worse than those of Rick Rescorla.

20:09 - Nothing to see here

I'm afraid I won't have anything very meaningful to say on the subject of 9/11, now that the second anniversary is rolling over us like the low, solemn clouds that have been inexplicably hanging on the tops of the Santa Cruz mountains for the past couple of days, only this afternoon to start shedding some moisture on our sidewalks.

I wasn't there, after all.

I was asleep, safe in my bed, on the West Coast, where it was only just becoming light at the time that the first plane hit back at the other end of the country. I woke up, stretched, tried to focus on what I was hearing out of my clock-radio-- not classic rock, but what sounded like an extraordinarily agitated news report. There's usually news on at 9:00, at the top of each hour; but it didn't usually sound like the headline-reader was trying to keep from shouting the lines into the microphone.

So I turned on the TV, which was usually perpetually tuned to Cartoon Network; I didn't even remember the channel number for CNN, so I had to use the on-screen guide to get there. And then I sat there staring at the AMERICA UNDER ATTACK banner, and at the plumes of smoke (the towers had already fallen by this time), wondering what the hell kind of "attack" they could possibly mean-- ICBMs? Street riots? What city was this? --for a few dumb minutes before I even turned around to see what was on my computer monitor.

The first thing was a message from CapLion, sent shortly after the first plane hit. Terrible accident, he said. Boy, would traffic suck in Manhattan this morning.

Then there was one more message. It only had two words in it. And then idle.

So what could I do? I woke up my roommate-- "You should probably be awake for this"-- and sat down dumbly to watch his TV for a little while. I filled him in. There wasn't much to say. There were already rumors of footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets, but I shelved that for later. There were still those images of the crashes themselves to process. Eventually I just went back to my room, called my boss, asked what was going on at work, said I'd be in a little later, and just sort of sat there.

I'd bought a PlayStation 2 the previous night. September 10. There it was, the date and the price, right there on the receipt from Fry's. What a set of circumstances under which to try to learn how to play Gran Turismo 3.

I talked to a couple of friends online. Yes, I'd heard what had happened.

Poor Khlau Kalash vendor.

Humor was all I could fall back on. That and the iron object in the back of my dresser, which I realized I might be called upon to dig out. Some of our neighbors were Muslim, you see.

And who knows what an angry mob might decide to do?

Neighbors are neighbors. And even at that point in the day, we knew that we weren't going to be a part of the real war, the one being fought in the urban canyons back East. Perhaps we had to play up our own role. If we had to die in the streets of San Jose fighting off our own vengeful compatriots in the historic violent riots on the Blackest Day in American History, well, so be it.

But, of course, that didn't happen. (I really should have known better. I didn't know anywhere near as much about America two Septembers ago as I do now.) We went to Cosentino's and did some cursory shopping, picking up essentials on the off chance that the country would be locked down or something. The air was still, traffic was light, but it was no different-- oddly-- from how I remember Christmas being in my youth. Normally we'd stayed home and indoors all day. It was Christmas, for crying-out-loud! You didn't drive on Christmas! And so on those rare times in the early years that we did go somewhere, I always found myself staring in fascination at the rare other cars we passed, wondering who was in them, what they were thinking. What could be so important? Why aren't you inside? The whole year has been leading up to this! Get off the road! And though age brought practicality and cynicism about that kind of thing, the same kind of primal nerve got tripped in my mind on that day. Didn't you hear the news? Go home, dammit! Can't it wait?

Eventually I went in to work, though not many people got much done. Most people went home early. Our friends gathered to watch the news until late into the night, hunched around a party tray of snack food, like some kind of macabre Cinco de Mayo festival. Hell, it was practical.

We told the stories we'd heard throughout the day. We waited for new developments, revised numbers, talking-head analysis, categorical denial and apology from cross-legged Taliban officials. We noticed after a couple of hours that there hadn't been any commercials. We wondered if there would ever be commercials again.

But for me, and for a lot of us three thousand miles away from where it happened, the reality of the events was still dull and distant, and-- somehow-- simultaneously loud and touchy and oversaturated. It wasn't like any of us thought it was all just a dream, or anything maudlin like that; it was more like being suddenly inside a sci-fi movie. Who knew when the clouds over the horizon would suddenly light up red and the sky would boil with spreading fire? Who knew when the Golden Gate Bridge would collapse asunder and crash into the Bay? Who knew when our computer screens would all suddenly flash giant skull-and-crossbones icons and shout Allahu akbar! at us? Who knew if anybody could ever watch a movie, or listen to a song, or buy a loaf of bread without feeling somehow guilty about the mundanity of it all? By gum, everything should have meaning now. They'll be writing history books with chapters that start with today's date. That banana you eat, that e-mail you type, that toe you stub might one day be on some kid's final exam.

So it was with no small amount of guilt that I, and probably others, went to bed that night. Guilt that we hadn't been in a position to take a more active part; guilt that we were worried about deadlines at work while people in New York were concerned primarily with finding out whether their family members were alive; guilt that we out here were never actually in any real danger, and especially guilt that we'd acted as though we might be.

And so, although this account has dragged on far longer and become far more self-aggrandized than I'd intended it to, I'd recommend looking elsewhere for apt first-hand descriptions of what it was like on that day where things actually did happen. Where guilt arose only from having the luck to live out the day when others did not.

I can't imagine how I might have handled being in that position. All I know is that I haven't "gotten over it", even having spent the intervening two years here on the sunny West Coast, far away from the battlegrounds, surrounded by those who are ready to dismiss any lingering emotional attachment to 9/11 as some damn faux Madison Avenue white-male sob-story sold by the cable networks and the politicians as an excuse to enslave the world.

I can only imagine what it would take for a New Yorker to "get over it".

No, actually I can't.

16:29 - Sounds awfully familiar to me


Via VodkaPundit-- Daniel Pipes has a post-mortem on the Oslo accords. Because by now they're not just merely dead, they're really most sincerely dead.

I remember, at the time, that not only were the accords hailed with a kind of festival atmosphere among all those who so desperately wanted to believe that something could work, but there was another side to the public discourse that painted Clinton, not to put too fine a point on it, as Satan. "He will come in the guise of a peacemaker," said the usual Final Days fantasies, triumphantly centering on that "handshake" photo.

I guess he couldn't have known how things would turn out, though naïveté may well have played a part. But it can hardly be argued that things are better now because of Oslo.

What went wrong?

Many things, but most important was that the deal rested on a faulty Israeli premise that Palestinians had given up their hope of destroying the Jewish state. This led to the expectation that if Israel offered sufficient financial and political incentives, the Palestinians would formally recognize the Jewish state and close down the conflict.

Israelis therefore pushed themselves to make an array of concessions, in the futile hope that flexibility, restraint and generosity would win Palestinian goodwill. In fact, these steps made matters worse by sending signals of apparent demoralization and weakness. Each concession further reduced Palestinian awe of Israeli might, made Israel seem more vulnerable and incited irredentist dreams of annihilating it.

The result was a radicalized and mobilized Palestinian body politic. In speech and actions, via claims to the entire land of Israel and the murder of Israelis, the hope of destroying Israel acquired ever-more traction.

Thus did the muted Palestinian mood at Oslo's start in 1993 turn into the enraged ambition evident today.

In other words, appeasement doesn't work. Never has, never will.

Maybe the EU's finally tagging Hamas as a terrorist group (following the recent Jerusalem attack) is the sign that we've been looking for (or at least one such sign), namely that what we're dealing with here is a culture for whom terrorism is not just condoned, it's celebrated, inculcated in kids from birth, taught in those "summer camps" that instruct children in bomb-making techniques, painted lavishly in murals, commemorated in street names and schools, and seen as the legitimate way to salvation. As long as the Jews are offered as the scapegoat for the whole of the Arab world and its collective failures, where the world thinks nothing of a "cease-fire" in which dozens of attacks are foiled each day and which is named for a historical "truce" in which Mohammad's forces laid down their arms so as to rebuild their strength for a later sneak attack, and where the last desperate attempt at a humane deterrent against terrorism-- a partition wall-- is condemned and torn at by "peace" protesters, and where the majority of Palestinians believe not in a two-state solution but in the destruction of Israel, trusting to diplomacy and reason and the common human desire for peace is just wishful thinking.

In the spirit of Oslo's 10th anniversary, I propose a radically different approach for the next decade:

* Acknowledge the faulty presumption that underlay both Oslo and the road map (Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence).

* Resolve not to repeat the same mistake.

* Understand that diplomacy aiming to close down the Arab-Israeli conflict is premature until Palestinians give up their anti-Zionist fantasy.

* Make Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence the primary goal.

* Impress on Palestinians that the sooner they accept Israel, the better off they will be. Conversely, so long they pursue their horrid goal of extermination, diplomacy will remain moribund and they will receive no financial aid, arms or recognition as a state.

* Give Israel license not just to defend itself but to impress on the Palestinians the hopelessness of their cause.

When, over a long period of time and with complete consistency, the Palestinians prove they accept Israel, negotiations can be re-opened and the issues of the past decade - borders, resources, armaments, sanctities, residential rights - be taken up anew. The sooner we adopt the right policies, the sooner that will be.

In other words, they can't be rewarded for the road they've taken-- they must be defeated. That is, after all, what we're doing with al Qaeda. And this is, after all, part of the same war.

UPDATE: Den Beste has more. One way or another, it always comes back down to Arafat.

UPDATE: It would be interesting to know if anybody can find one instance, just one, of Israelis behaving even remotely like this after any IDF operation against terrorist leaders, no matter how focused, efficient, or successful.

Hell, I can't even imagine Americans acting like this if we got bin Laden.

15:42 - Spam Moment of Zen

Just received:

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That's all.

15:23 - Now that's presence

Holy crap! When did this place open?

Is it just me, or are the Apple retail stores just getting bigger and better every time? Yeah, this Chicago store is one of the flagships, but... I guess it'd be hard to claim the retail experiment has been a flop, eh?

(I'll bet they have dual G5s in stock. Hell, the place even looks like a G5.)

Monday, September 8, 2003
18:54 - Get these people an ad agency

I think I might know why Apple has come up with that whole new ad packaging for the iPod (the silhouettes of people holding iPods against multicolored backgrounds).

Up until this past weekend, this billboard, south of San Francisco on 101 southbound, just north of the intersection with 280, was an iTunes Music Store ad, featuring that gorgeous starburst guitar and the AppleMusic.com URL.

Then, about five miles further on, just north of the San Francisco Airport, appeared this:

As parodies go, this one is particularly vicious... and particularly inept. It presumes the viewer has seen the TV ad with Tommy Lee smashing Apple's guitar on the stage and screeching like a banshee. But for those who haven't-- what's the message here? As well as Chris and I can determine, it's "BuyMusic.com-- just like the Apple store, only it's broken!"

But now I notice that the AppleMusic.com domain is just a redirect to the iTunes 4 page (which has a section describing the features of the iTMS, but the iconic guitar is nowhere in sight), and all the billboards about the service have been replaced with the new multicolored iPod campaign.

I wonder what happened. I figured the AppleMusic campaign had a lot of life left in it, and that guitar was poised to be one of the most tasteful, most recognizable, most respectable icons in technology branding history.

If they've retired it already purely because of BuyMusic.com's infantile smear, then the latter isn't just guilty of iconicide. They're guilty of doing what happens so often in the technology world: if you can't copy Apple's innovations successfully, just ridicule them until they quit.

#$%^#$&**^, I say.

UPDATE: Of course, the iPod faces some stiff competition from this guy's head.

UPDATE: Kris notes...

Apple changing the iTMS ads Is a great idea, if only to make BuyMusic.com come up with a new ad campaign. FAST. Otherwise, like you pointed out, what do all those lonely broken guitars say about BuyMusic to the uninformed? And if they parody the new ads... what are they parodying? The iPod, which they don't compete against? Let's see if BuyMusic is fast with their fingers because this is an old fashion music duel!

Awright! Battle of the Bands, only with distributors instead of bands!

If only the two companies had different exclusive artists that they could pit against each other in a week-long battle royale!

16:42 - So that's it...


Looks like the iPod is up to 40GB. Yay! And the colorful silhouette ad campaign is the new packaging they're trotting out for it. Kinda odd and uncharacteristic, but hey, I'm not gonna complain.

After all, they've just sold their millionth iPod. The formula's still working, apparently!

Oh, and new speed-bumped iMacs, up to 1.25 GHz. With USB 2.0 and FireWire 400. The hell?

Saturday, September 6, 2003
03:05 - Out of the fog

Via InstaPundit-- a soldier's report from Iraq, including his stupefaction at finding upon his return home that all the news reports we've been seeing here have been so negative.

THE QUESTIONS I GET FROM A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE ARE, "What's going on over there? Why is there so much fighting? Why do the Iraqi people hate us so much?" When I first heard that, that's when I realized that the news was not proportionate to what was going on in the country.

I was in eight or nine cities in Iraq. Starting from Kuwait, we saw pretty much every city along the river on the way to Baghdad. People absolutely loved us everywhere we went. There were big parades. We'd just roll down the streets, or sometimes be on foot patrol, and kids would run out of their houses just to wave at us, just to get a wave back from us. People would give us flowers; they'd give us flowers and gifts and Pepsi -- all kinds of stuff.

I'd have people come up to me and say, "What took you so long? You should have done this in '91!" Especially when we were in Baghdad. We were in this huge building, with a huge fence around it. I'd have a lot of people -- especially the elderly guys -- telling me, "I was tortured under this building for 12 or 14 years," or, "There's torture chambers under here." So we went down and checked it out, and sure enough, there were torture chambers under there -- basically an entire block, underground, with cells and everything else.

This is particularly interesting to me because it's appearing in the North Coast Journal-- the main newspaper in Arcata, the Hippiest Place on Earth, from where this soldier hails. While I was up there for the Kinetic Sculpture Race in May, the attitude was one of such post-war seething that I had the impression I'd have had my car vandalized if I'd been there a couple of months earlier. This is a place where newspaper vending boxes in front of supermarkets are covered with scrawls of "LIES" and glass display cases showing documents like the Bill of Rights and the abolition of slavery are plastered over with strident anti-war handbills. And the North Coast Journal, naturally, reflected the tenor of the place.

For this kind of story to appear there now must be horribly galling to the residents. I'll bet there will be protests outside their offices on Monday calling for the ouster of whatever Rupert Murdoch flunky has forcibly taken over the paper and printed such blatant propaganda to spread over their town.

It should be noted, however, that this kind of story is very, very typical; I've read a dozen or so of them, and to a man they all say, "Wait a minute. What the hell has the news been telling you all this time?"

It's taking its time, but the establishment of a free press in post-war America continues apace.

02:42 - Stupid fat lazy Americans

I heard on the news last night that there was a new health study out.

Oh great, I thought. I can't wait to hear how I'm going to die this time.

But that wasn't it at all. Just the opposite, in fact. The findings of the study were that in the past ten years in the US, there's been a massive decline in the number of restaurant patrons ordering dessert.

And the reason? Nothing to do with health concerns, it seems. It's all because Americans just don't have the time for it anymore. People cited in the study said they're working more hours than they were ten years ago, and though they're making more money, they have less time to linger over food.

And it's not just restaurants, either. Frozen dinner manufacturers have apparently changed their offerings to match the new buying patterns; and whereas ten years ago nearly all frozen dinners included some sort of dessert item, now only like 15% do.

What to make of this? I don't know, but with unions striking in Europe to try to get 30-hour workweeks and smoking still a ubiquitous thing from Lisbon to St. Petersburg, I'm starting to think that maybe the reason why I don't see as many morbidly obese people trundling down the streets as the news normally leads me to believe there should be is that they're all inside making documentaries.

Friday, September 5, 2003
03:16 - Pleasant Surprises

I was about in the mood for some good news today. Fortunately, fate conspired to bring me some.

First of all, we were coming back from lunch, when we saw this:

And I thought, hmm-- what happened to the G5 banner? Is the G5 passé already? And that's an awfully weird iPod ad; very un-Apple in a way. No "real people", no richly lit real-world scenarios like what Apple's ads have all been lately. This one's designy, modern, subtle, urban-hip. Very nice, really. Just... different.

That in itself wasn't the good news I mentioned. Just weird. I resolved to check the Apple site when I got back to the office, to see if there was some new iPod promo that warranted eclipsing the G5. (There wasn't.)

But as we got on De Anza southward, and passed the octagonal anchor-building in the little mini-mall right across the boulevard from the Apple Campus where Elite Computers by Computerware, formerly Elite Computers, had once stood (only to shut its doors for good about six months ago, inexplicably, after having bought out the whole Bay Area-wide 20-year-old ComputerWare chain that had shut its doors about a year before and subseqently built up and expanded aggressively, only to suddenly implode one day), we saw this:

What? What? You've got to be kidding me!

What is this-- some kind of absurd practical joke? Has Apple started putting up little billboard banners of its own, in abandoned buildings, just because it can? Have they taken up the task of posting banners of new products right where Elite always used to do it, as a kind of goofy nostalgia or sick parody? What does "G5 in stock" mean-- there's an empty, darkened showroom with a stack of G5s sittng in the middle, with a sign saying "Leave your money on the table"?

We hung a right, pulled in, and went inside. Actually, we weren't far off. The showroom was mostly empty, manned by a couple of characters I'd never seen before. They had set up a couple of Elite's old display stands, the iMac and the 14" iBook, right near the door. Otherwise, though, the floor was eerily bare. They smiled from the island, tiredly, like they weren't in any mood to answer the question, "What, you're back?" for the nine zillionth time today.

"The chain has been bought out," they said, "By Executron." You mean the guys from Santa Rosa? I'd pegged them as dying back in 1993! But no, there they are! Same old location. And now apparently they've resurrected the ComputerWare name once again! It's the Brand That Would Not Die! Its long, long history of serving Silicon Valley's Mac needs will not be interrupted. Not for more than a few months, anyway.

But there in the back was a G5. And let me tell you, this thing will be the subject of some pretty intense photo-blogging when mine gets here, because it is a monster. It's a work of art, in numerous different ways. I can't even begin to describe how unlike every other computer it is. So I won't even try, until I have the pictures to back it up.

But that's today's news. We took our leave with the assurance that we'd be visiting often in the future, and somehow the world seemed a little brighter again.

21:08 - Dumb puppy, or soundbite salad?

According to Tim Blair, some of his commenters, and a USA Weekend article, Johnny Depp's "dumb, dangerous puppy" comments were taken wildly out of context and/or completely reworded. Or he gave two totally different interviews. I'm not sure which.

Instead he fell in love, first with Paradis and then with his adopted country. He says he is shocked by the gun violence in American schools and feels it is far safer raising a family in France.

"I was very lucky that something steered me to France back in '98," he says of his decision to make a movie with Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski in 1998. "I love America -- I love going back, seeing my family and friends -- but it's wonderful to get back to France and be living in a tiny village with nothing around. There is still the possibility to live a simple life. You can go to the market, walk about, buy fruits and vegetables -- the things they did 100 and 200 years ago. We have moments when we're sitting in our house and our kids are playing, and we look at one another and think, 'Thank God we escaped.' "

A product of the rural South who spent many years in Hollywood, Depp never really felt at home until he moved to France. He rejects the view that there has been a surge of anti-Americanism there because of opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and he believes the French people have behaved in a dignified manner while some Americans have resorted to "schoolyard tactics" by renaming French fries "freedom fries."

"That was so revealing, that grown men sat around and came up with that idea," he says of the freedom fries initiative. "It was tragic and embarrassing. At the same time, I was happy it was exposed, and people knew that a bunch of congressmen -- big people, the upper-drawer people -- made that decision."

He also was not convinced by the Bush administration's rationale for the war. He says the real reason was America's economic interests. "I saw these American kids being shipped off to war, and I was looking at their faces and thinking, 'They're not ready for it,' " he says. "Is anybody ever ready for it? You're thinking about where they're going, what they're getting into. What's it really all about? It's about dough; it's about money. That's ugly."

So he wasn't deliberately lying, then; he's just on the clueless side. He prefers walking to market with a basket on his head, and that's fine. He thinks the war in Iraq was all about money, which is a new and interesting angle, well-thought-out and bound to upset many political theorists' theses. "Freedom fries" were cooked up by Congress, apparently. That's not the way I remember it, but hey.

If this is the extent to which his commentary reached, it definitely falls more into the "par for the course" category than the "Ha-haah, Orlando Bloom and I shall conquer every 14-year-old female American's heart, and then turn them all against their leaders in a mad cackling swarm of furies in baggy pants and glowsticks!" category.

That's good. It would have sucked never seeing Fear & Loathing again.

20:54 - GTI Outta Here

I tell you, it's dangerous for me to go to the VW dealer.

I was there picking up my car after its O2-sensor ordeal-- which isn't technically over, by the way; they still haven't found a catalytic converter in the continental United States, and though my case entry has little red flags and overnight-ship requests and CAR DOWN! CAR DOWN! sirens all over it in the database, there's still no sign that one is forthcoming. But they did determine that the cat was most probably hosed because of the faulty O2 sensor (D'oh-- stupid sensor!), and not the other way around, and so it was safe for me to pick up the car and drive it until the cat comes in. Phew-boy.

But while I was there waiting for the car to emerge from the hoser-downer garage, found myself staring at this: the GTI 20th Anniversary Edition. $28K (with hefty dealer markup) gets you the 1.8T engine, this zany yellow paint, custom metal rocker panels and armrest inserts and dash paneling, Recaro seats, rear lip spoiler (to help keep those rear wheels on the road, see), racing pedals, gorgeous gauges, and (best of all) a six-speed manual that as I played with it on the showroom floor, I could hear snicking into place somewhere deep under the hood. Snappiest shifter I've felt outside a Ferrari F355. And dammit, I found myself thinking about loan terms and monthly payments and stuff.

I had to get out of there.

Heaven help me, I was even starting to look at the Touareg with a favorable eye. You sit down in the driver's seat, and you feel like you're on the bridge of the Heart of Gold, with is excitingly chunky curvaceous surfaces and control panels still in cellophane wrappers. Controls rise to meet your fingers. You stare straight ahead into the welcome screen of a digital display branded for the car and its theme (sand dunes and the like). VW has vaulted straight into the luxury market, somehow, and is competing now-- favorably-- with SUVs from Mercedes and BMW.

And for the record, VW's website has some of the most unspeakably beautiful Flash-animated interfaces I've seen anywhere. if the Touareg is the Heart of Gold's bridge, the VW.com site is the same bridge after its nigh-infinitely improbable transformation that escaped the missile defense system over Magrathea. It's just plain good. I can see getting sucked in there for days, only to emerge startled at the other end with a new lease agreement and no clothes.

I definitely had to get out of there.

So anyway, I paid for the half-done repair job and said hello once again to my trusty old (hey, c'mon, it's still new! Sort of!) Jetta, with its dusty wheel wells and its fingernail marks under the door pulls and the faded graduation tassel on the rear-view mirror, and I was pleased to note that it still had a faint new-car smell. After four years, it's still clinging to the memory of those first few giddy weekends. And as the pedal went down, I did notice that the rough idle is gone now. It's back to the way it likes to be.

Hammer down, back to work.

And that's when I notice that where three weeks ago I had found several large piles of bird crap on the rear decklid, and had vowed to get the service done soon so I could have them wash it off (instead of cleverly taking it to the hand-wash place and then the service place, having the mechanics slop muddy water on top of my still-gleaming wax job, as I usually manage to do), there was now a series of unsightly round spots.

I got some wet rags and tried to wipe them off. No good. They're on there fast.

Or it's permanent acid damage.

I've got to get out of here.

Thursday, September 4, 2003
23:44 - Has the whole world gone insane, or is it just me?

Hark! What's this I hear?

SACRAMENTO -- A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses, an issue that has worked its way into the debate surrounding the attempt to recall Gov. Gray Davis, passed the state Assembly on Tuesday.


Davis has vetoed two similar bills since he became governor, citing law enforcement's concerns about the legislation. After he vetoed the bill last year, the Legislature's Latino caucus refused to endorse him for re-election.

Last month, at an anti-recall rally in Los Angeles, the governor said he would sign the latest bill "in a heartbeat" if it reached his desk.

Which I'm sure will go over real well with legal immigrants, who worked their asses off for years and spent tons of money because they knew that going through proper legal channels was the right thing to do.

Or maybe not. After all, this is being identified as a play for the Latino vote-- and after all, Latinos who are illegal can't vote. But the legal ones can. So I guess they must expect full support from that quarter.

But if you can get a license even if you enter the state illegally, what the hell's the point of doing it legally?!

So what about the Feds, then? Isn't a driver's license supposed to be a valid form of legal identification throughout the States? And what about insurance? It's required by law. Can illegal immigrants get insurance?

Why try to pass this law? Is some significant portion of traffic accidents caused by illegal immigrants? Would giving them driver's licenses magically make them better drivers? If one gets pulled over, is he really going to let the cop do a background check?

Why is it that everybody always hears the cute fluffy word immigrant, but never hears the big stern meaningful word illegal? (I note this news story even whites it out and replaces it with undocumented. Undocumented is good! Undocumented means plays-by-his-own-rules! Undocumented means innovative!)

In short, just what the bloody hell does Davis think he's playing at?

Like that needs to be answered.

You know, I've been lukewarm on this whole recall business all along. I don't like political machinations that smack of "votes of no confidence". You casts your vote and you takes your chances, and then you try again four years later.

But this is just ridiculous. We need to get that moron out of office, and I mean stat.

But you know what's even worse? All the recall candidates agree with the bill.

All except one. (Guess who?)

Go get 'em, Arnie.

UPDATE: Or McClintock.

20:51 - Tell me this isn't happening

Orwell was an optimist.

Prokofiev's version ends with Peter capturing the wolf and leading a triumphant procession to the zoo, paining music-loving environmentalists with romantic visions of wolves in the wild.

In the new version, narrated by former U.S. president Clinton and called Wolf Tracks, Peter again captures the wolf, but this time repents of his act and releases the animal, who howls a grateful goodbye.

"Forgetting his triumph, Peter thought instead of fallen trees, parched meadows, choked streams, and of each and every wolf struggling for survival," Clinton narrates.

"The time has come to leave wolves in peace," he adds.

French composer Jean-Pascal Beintus wrote the score for the new wolf-friendly version while former Soviet leader Gorbachev provides an introduction and epilogue.

"In Prokofiev's classic, man dominates, but Wolf Tracks expresses quite different values of balance and tolerance. All of us hope for a future where these values are lived every day," Gorbachev said.


11:42 - Here's what I've been doing wrong

So that's my problem. I just don't have the patience to use Windows.

'Cause here, via J Greely, is an in-depth PC World article on how to reinstall Windows without losing your data.

It's six pages long.

Six pages.

Before you begin, gather your Windows and application CD-ROMs. Back up your data files (just to be safe), and then clear two days off your calendar. If everything goes smoothly, you can reinstall Windows in a few hours. But you have to assume something will go wrong: You may not be able to find a necessary CD, or data won't be where you thought it was, or something will simply refuse to work.


If your restore CD is reformat-only, back up your data files to a network or a removable medium before reinstalling Windows. If you use Windows 98 or Me, back up C:\My Documents, plus the folders inside C:\Windows discussed in the 98/Me section below. If you have Windows 2000 or XP, back up C:\Documents and Settings. Also back up any other folders in which you store your data files.


Once you're back in Windows, reinstall your graphics card driver. If you have Windows set up for more than one user, you'll also have to re-create each account. Select Start, Settings, Control Panel, Users to do so. It's important that the user names match those in the old installation. If you're not sure, open Windows Explorer and navigate to C:\oldstuff\profiles. There you'll find a folder for each registered user name (see FIGURE 2). Don't worry about passwords. Log off and log back on as each user. When you're done, log off and back on one more time, but instead of choosing a user name and a password, press Esc to enter Windows without being a specific user.


Select Start, Programs, Accessories, Command Prompt. Type cd "\documents and settings" and press Enter. Then type xcopy administrator\*.* administrator.computername /s /h /r /c, replacing computername with the last part of that folder's name (after "Administrator.") in Documents and Settings. Now press Enter, and when you're asked about overwriting files or folders, press a for All.


Now you've got Windows going, but not much else. You may have to reinstall your printer, sound card, and so on. Luckily, if a driver for the gadget came on your Windows or vendor restore CD, it was probably reinstalled automatically.


You've probably guessed that the final step is deleting the c:\oldstuff folder--and the Administrator folder in Windows 2000. Make this the very last step, however. Wait a couple of days, weeks, or even months until you're confident that all of your needed files are accessible.

Christ, Linux is less painful than this.

I suppose it would be just baiting fate to point out how this whole ordeal would be accomplished under Mac OS X:

"Archive & Install".

Which takes about an hour.

"Clear two days off your calendar", huh? I guess my experience isn't so unusual after all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2003
03:05 - By their slurs shall ye know them


"I was ecstatic they re-named 'French Fries' as 'Freedom Fries'. Grown men and women in positions of power in the US government showing themselves as idiots," he told Stern.

Now which men and women in positions of power might you be talking about, you smirking little weasel? Which proverbial they have earned your incoherent ire?

Oh, that's right. Bush and Rice and Ashcroft and Rumsfeld, who jointly passed the Imperial Decree that all subjectscitizens of the US must henceforth refer to "French fries" as "freedom fries" on pain of exile to the gulags. Right?

He clearly doesn't have even the beginnings of understanding of how American society and government work, so perhaps his moving to France is the right answer for him. And for us. It'll raise the moral quotient of both countries.

Dammit, I'm running out of movies I can watch and enjoy whose stars haven't gone on record as card-carrying members of the Rectal-Cranial Inversion Brigade.

19:29 - I'm okay, really

I just got word from the VW dealer that on top of my O2 sensor being fixed (which is what the solidly-on Check Engine light is always about, always, though for some reason they always have to act like it's some big mystery, and for some reason nobody has invented an O2 sensor that has a lifetime longer than your average set of tires), the catalytic converter is also fizzled and must be replaced. Fortunately, replacing the catalytic converter is covered under the drivetrain/exhaust warranty.

Unfortunately, not only do they not have a catalytic converter in stock-- neither does any of the supply warehouses in the region. LA, Reno, Seattle... all out.

You can't get a catalytic converter for a Jetta if you live in the western United States. For, apparently, as much as six months.

No! No! Calm down! That's a worst-case scenario! the guy told me. It could be as little as a day or two! We just don't know yet.

Fine. Let's have a call back tomorrow to see what the news is. I fully expect he'll tell me that they've got one on back-order, and it'll arrive in about two weeks. Long enough to completely stall the household's mobility and progress on construction, but not long enough to qualify as "an unreasonable period of time" sufficient for me to demand a loaner off the lot. Murphy's Law works that way.

But no, no... I'm cool. Everything will be fine.

I know I've been on a bit of a tear today. I know it looks like this has been one of the most off-pissing days of my life. And I suppose it's had the potential to be one.

But I'm calm. I'm in my happy place. Oddly enough, I don't feel anywhere near as angry as I must sound.


18:31 - He just likes to see us squirm

Okay, call me stupid.

...Okay, now that you're done doing that...

Please explain to me the following: Why in God's green Hell does Microsoft need to put pop-up ads in its Windows Update mechanism?!

Seriously! I go to try to update my desktop PC, to get it all ship-shape in light of SoBig and Blaster and friends (even though it's behind a NAT and therefore ostensibly "safe"), and I get this:

Not only is it a popup ad (which-- and I think this is hilarious-- every browser in the world, except for MSIE, has built-in features to block; even AOLNetscape in its final throes put in a pop-up blocker... and yet Microsoft, instead of adding that now-elementary feature, provides helpful tips on how to prevent pop-up ads, such as "contact the administrators for the Web site and ask them to remove the pop-up ads from the site, or prevent them from opening on your machine"); but it's a pop-up ad advertising a crappy third-party fix for the very virus/worm I'm trying to patch for, using a title bar banner of COMPUTER SECURITY ALERT - YOUR PC IS INFECTED!

Does Microsoft not even vet these pop-up ads for hideous glaring inappropriateness? Or to imagine what goes through the head of the average Windows user upon seeing a screen like this? Do they even consider--

Wait. What am I saying?

So anyway-- I close that window (which, incidentally, had been a pop-under), and immediately up pops this:

Goodie! Microsoft tacitly endorses not only Registry-smearing virus-fixing Trojans, but illegal MP3-and-pr0n-piracy sites too! Hey! While you're downloading your security patches, why not peruse some more of these fine Microsoft strategic partners! XXXHOTBABESXXX.com! BURN DVDS TO CD! HERBAL VIAGRA STR8 2 UR D00R!

And lest you think I'm being alarmist-- a new window just popped up, totally of its own accord, some ten minutes after I'd closed the earlier ads, for a sleazy matchmaking website. Just because the Windows Update window was still open. So not only does Windows Update have onLoads, pop-ups, pop-unders, and onCloses, it has timed-release ads. Just like any of the most awful porn sites you've ever been inundated with.

Does Microsoft's operating budget really not permit them to provide the critical Windows Update infrastructure without bombarding the user with cheesy, invasive, and often quite offensive ads? They're not doing that badly down on Wall Street, are they? Surely they can spring for a company subsidy on this most crucial of all centralized services...?

Yes, I know. Now I'm just being silly.

Now, I ask you, and I do so very slowly and distinctly:

Is it any bleeding wonder in the absolute slightest that nobody ever uses Windows Update to patch their bleeding systems?

If Microsoft wants to encourage its users to be more proactive in patching the holes it keeps drilling through its software, I have an excellent suggestion as to how they might start.

Oh, and...

Pardon my ignorance, but-- Set Program Access and Defaults? What the hell kind of intuitive menu option name is that? What, was Define Runtimes Parameter and Set Access Group of Leval taken already? How can any company that even pretends to have its hand in good user-interface design practices come up with a name like this for the function of specifying which applications are used for common Internet-related tasks?

And of course, what's the window called that it brings up? Add/Remove Programs. When what you're doing is clicking little radio buttons.

Jeezum crow, Bill. Were you mistreated by a human being in a previous life, and that's why you're taking it out on us now?

UPDATE: Funky.

On several people's advice, I ran Ad-Aware 6.0 on the machine, and it found a number of cookies from doubleclick.net and such sites. I let it clean them out for me, and the pop-up ads went away.

Now, before yez let loose with the congenial smiles and half-lidded eyes and conspiratorial side-glances, I think I can say that I had good reason to believe that Windows Update incorporated the ads on its own. First of all, whenever I've used this machine to browse to any other site on the Internet, I've never gotten pop-up windows. CNN, everybody on my blogroll, somethingawful, all the crucial stuff-- nary an ad to be seen. All was sweetness and light. But the minute I reach for the Windows Update button-- whoops! Up pop the ads.

On top of which, this machine is my personal test rig; it's behind a NAT, and I certainly don't use it for everyday surfing-- and I absolutely don't go recklessly installing Bonzi Buddies and pornographic weather applets and other prime candidates for populating the agarose dish that is my hard drive. I've been using and maintaining Windows machines in lab and support environments for some eight years now, and I like to think I have some understanding of responsible surfing habits. I've seen lots of weeeeeird crap in my time. But this was a new one on me.

15:57 - Remember when comics were funny?

God dammit, can we have just one strip that dares to break free of the Comic Artists' International Anti-US Union party line?!

I mean, yes, sure, humor is great for catharsis. We were all glad when we found we could laugh again after 9/11. But is there some great unspoken law, some You Must Never Speak of the Snares rule, that prevents any pop humorists on the planet (aside from Chris Muir) from acknowledging the scale and the importance of the war we're fighting? Let alone to stop spreading memes to a credulous and self-conscious public that, if the war should fail, are going to be the single largest cause for that failure?

They call it self-loathing, the desire among high-minded pundits to see the West fail so they can quote Denethor's death-pyre ravings and look all cool with their arms outstretched and a wall of flame leaping up behind them. But you know what? I call it treachery. I call it treason. And I'm beginning to think that as the 9/11 anniversary approaches with nary an acknowledgment on the major TV networks, it's going to take something even bigger and more gruesome than the events of that day to even get us back to the clarity we had two years ago. Much bigger. We're desensitized and cynical now, you see. Leads to wry, defeatist irony in place of the grim resolve we once had to put our foot down, ignore or silence our critics, and do some good in this world. But it's not real to us any longer. It's all a big fucking joke.

All that violence on television, I'll bet. Especially during September of 2001.

15:36 - Che and Che Alike

Somehow or other, this LGF thread turned into a back-and-forthing about Che Guevara. Itinerant limpet "View from Ireland" made happy noises about how many kids buy Che t-shirts because the guy looked soooo coool, and hey, he was an inspiring revolutionary! And for kids to grow up without knowing who he is reflects poorly on their school district.

To review:

Lessee here... Looking in my history books from College... Ah, here it is. Che Guevara: Argentinian of Irish descent... Trained as a doctor... Murdered hundreds of Cubans that wanted someone other than Castro to be in power... Murdered a couple hundred more in the La Paz Massacre... Extreme left-wing radical... One of the "spriritual founders" of the Shining Path which has killed more than 40,000 people... He was fond of tying people up, blindfolding them and then popping a cap in the backs of their heads while their wives and children were forced to watch... Executed by the Bolivian government on 48 proven counts of capital murder... Just the kind of guy that deserves to have his face on a t-shirt. Him and Bob Berdella.

And more:

OCTOBER 18, 1965: A CIA Intelligence Memorandum discusses what analysts perceive as Che Guevara’s fall from power within the Cuban government beginning in 1964. It states that at the end of 1963, Guevara’s plan of "rapid industrialization and centralization during the first years of the Revolution brought the economy to its lowest point since Castro came to power." "Guevara’s outlook, which approximated present -day Chinese--rather than Soviet--economic practice, was behind the controversy." In July 1964, "two important cabinet appointments signaled the power struggle over internal economic policy which culminated in Guevara’s elimination." Another conflict was that Guevara wanted to export the Cuban Revolution to different parts of Latin America and Africa, while "other Cuban leaders began to devote most of their attention to the internal problems of the Revolution." In December, 1964, Guevara departed on a three-month trip to the United States, Africa, and China. When he returned, according to the CIA report, his economic and foreign policies were in disfavor and he left to start revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world. (CIA Intelligence Memorandum, "The Fall of Che Guevara and the Changing Face of the Cuban Revolution," 10/18/65)

And VFI's response?

Che certainly was responsible for the executions of many following the revolution. A dirty job that Castro gave him. About 500 were killed.

Shining Path are Maoist. If anyone inherited the mantle of Che in Peru it was Tupac Amaru.

He was executed by the Bolivians (alongside the CIA) but not on any 'proven' counts of murder. In fact they denied executing him for a long time.

He was erudite, led a successful revolution, inspired countless numbers, never gave up, and happened to be drop dead gorgeous to boot. I don't think it's any mystery why he's a hardy perennial.

Of course. Never giving up. And being charismatic. What fine reasons to admire a guy, regardless of what it was he never gave up doing.

But I was a good boy. I kept from throttling the Canadians who proudly wore t-shirts with his image when I was up in Toronto.

I'll bet my teeth surfaces are flatter now, though.

Tuesday, September 2, 2003
22:15 - Cleanup in aisle 221B

This is bound to be of interest to some.

I'm told of a tale of Costco, when everyone was standing in the checkout lines waiting to pay for their heaps of goods; then, someone several registers down dropped a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. SMASH. And the smell wafted over the congregated throngs.

And to a man, they all abandoned their carts and scuttled off to the back of the store, to reappear laden with armloads of steaks.

(So now it's theorized that if a grocery store ever needs to kick its meat-counter sales up a notch, all they have to do is drop a bottle of Lea & Perrins somewhere near a recirculating vent. Bam!)

Well, this is apparently the way to do the same thing at a Home Depot.

Maybe it's just a music video. But the whole power-tool industry can probably be forgiven for cackling with glee over this.

14MB, but I know I can name people who will find it worthwhile-- or at least very silly.

19:50 - I hope al Qaeda's using Windows

The CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association sent a two-page letter to Tom Ridge, urging him not to entrust the operation of the Department of Homeland Security to Microsoft software.

These vulnerabilities and exploits are not new, and unfortunately were predictable. CCIA believes it is critical to maintain secure systems to protect homeland security, and so CCIA has asked the Department to reconsider its decision to promote Microsoft as the default software for DHS. Reliance on a company that distributes products known to have such serious vulnerabilities will not provide adequate security and stability to protect of our nation's most important computer systems.

Not that I imagine this will have any effect or anything; if one bureaucracy in charge of law enforcement and security (the FBI) has to be taken to school on how to use things like e-mail and Google, my hope that the DHS is more adept at using computers-- or stringent about secure usage practices and software deployments-- is pretty much nil.

Whatever it is Tom Ridge is doing at his post, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that he does it by spending most days sitting hunched uncomfortably in front of a 14-inch monitor on a massive mahogany desk, little bifocals perched on the end of his nose, hunting-and-pecking his way wonderingly through e-mails that entreat him to assist the son of the late Mobutu Sese Seko to move $30 million into a bank account in the United States.

19:13 - Worst Microsoft Ad EVAR

Chris spotted this one.

Is this not the most pathetic, self-defeating ad you've ever seen? Could it be any more of a tacit endorsement of UNIX (which they're refusing to claim to be superior to, now) or of FreeBSD or Linux (which everybody in the industry knows is effectively free UNIX)? Have they just sort of given up on the spin game?

Do they realize how, in context, that guy in the center looks like he's feeling cold and isolated and abandoned, as though he's steeling himself outside a conference room to go in and announce some sort of dreadful financial news? How his face conveys not confidence and satisfaction, but guilt, trepidation, and the sick feeling you get from knowing you've picked a loser just because it makes the bottom line look a little better for this quarter?

"Do more with less." Wow. What an awful, awful slogan. "Buy our operating system! Sure, you get less functionality and quality than UNIX, but if you roll up your sleeves and take a lot of deep breaths while standing out in the breezeway, you'd be amazed at the things you can wring out of it! Go the bare-bones route, and together we can tighten our belts and ride out this bleak and barren post-dot-com business landscape!"

Yeah, I know what they're trying to say. But clearly someone at their ad agency didn't spend a lot of time staring at this ad to see how it could be interpreted.

At least it's not their usual smarmy lying. At least this approaches the truthful.

Which is really sad.

UPDATE: Speaking of the WeHaveTheWayOut.com site... notice that cute little animation on the left, of the bedsheet rope being lowered out the window? Kris points out that it wriggles the wrong way-- the end of it jiggles before the rest of it moves, like a snake.

Know what I think happened? I'll bet some Flash guys originally animated the rope being pulled up into the window; and then Microsoft said, "Hey, no, we wanted it going the other way"; and the contractor said, "Yeah, but like, it's already done and paid for, and the animators already went to Vegas"; and Microsoft said, "Okay, well, just run it backwards, then. That's good enough."

Oh, and Chris noticed that the rope doesn't descend all the way to the ground, which is out of sight below. So Microsoft and Unisys will help you start to escape, but they won't provide more than ten feet of bedsheet-- and then you've got that inconvenient plunge to your death to contend with.

Sunday, August 31, 2003
03:37 - Zzzzz...

Just got back from a very intense day of high-school-reunion-type-stuff. Met up with the old Carpe Diem Society at Lake Mendocino, and we all went out on a party boat owned by some friends of one of our number; we drove around the lake all afternoon, picking out spots to stop the boat and dive off to swim. When I got back to the car at 6:00, I found that it had been well over 100 degrees on the lake all day. (Miraculously, I don't seem to have become sunburned.) And it still felt refreshingly chilly when I was standing on the boat deck dripping from a dip in my non-swim-trunks.

It was a blast. And I love having less than 20% humidity.

Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep myself from falling asleep on the three-hour drive back home; it was an exhilarating day, but the glucose crash at the end was pretty cataclysmic. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

See you in about, oh, fourteen hours.

05:10 - Conservation of conservatism

So I'm taking a brief break from my pounding out chapters in advance of my Tuesday 50% deadline to catch up on the newsgroups I follow (taking happy advantage of the new T1-- damn, but it's fun to not be fazed by 5000-line attachments anymore), and I found myself noticing something.

See, the group in question, and the demographic that I've been sidling around for the past six years or so, is one that's made up in large part of young, angst-filled, disillusioned guys of alternative sexuality who feel themselves to be alienated from the mass of humanity-- largely of their own volition. Whether in college dorms or their parents' basements, many of them have lived on some form of dole for the majority of their lives, and (like anybody would be) they don't feel terrifically self-confident or self-sufficient as a result. These are people who are so disgusted with the human race and its perceived vagaries, cruelties, inequities, and crimes against the planet, that they'd rather not even be human. (Don't even ask what I'm doing floating around such a group.)

So it's not as though I can really reasonably expect to find a whole lot of political balance there. And upon pulling up the chatty newsgroups, which I'd last read in mid-February, it was with a twinge that I realized I'd soon be scrolling my way through an inevitable morass of truly, truly dumb anti-war sloganeering.

As, indeed, it turned out to be. We had insightful sentiments from DJ-ish types like "Drop Beats Not Bombs", and speculation was batted about that the Bushies were planning to use nuclear weapons in Iraq, and someone had changed her signature to an FDR quote: "A conservative is a man who, having two perfectly good legs, has never taken a single step forward."

But before that was a startling thread from one person who was on the verge of tears for an entirely different reason: he was a Christian. And he felt totally alienated by the group he loved-- vilified and discriminated against by the very people to whom he'd attached himself largely because he'd thought they were all about tolerance and open-mindedness. He felt betrayed. He felt surrounded by scowling faces who saw no difference between him and Pat Robertson, between him and the KKK, between him and a Satan that the scowls didn't believe existed anyway. And he didn't know where he could turn next.

And I got to thinking. Let's see: since so many people start out as liberals, being idealistic and full of progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-McDonald's, anti-modernist causes to fight for from the safety of their prepaid tuitions, it follows that for anyone to become conservative later in life has to involve a conscious change in attitude, catalyzed by some series of personal events or shifting of interests. Remaining a liberal is the default state, and in the absence of some defining event to change one's attitude, one is likely to find a community of like-minded compatriots with which to experience one's twenties and thirties in the same relative comfort and idealistic certainty as one was used to.

So it follows, it seems to me, that a great many people who grow up proud to call themselves "liberals" have quite possibly never actually met a real, live conservative-- except maybe for their jingoistic fathers whom they remember as the guy who always told them to mow the lawn or stop dating hippies, or their square-jawed buzz-cut gym-and-civics teachers who always growled about commies. It's hard to grow up these days with a positive impression of conservatives-- and it's equally hard to grow up with a real first-hand understanding of what conservative politics are about.

The realities of the business world are opaque to the high-school student, who sees only grimy air and ugly smokestacks next to a white-sand California beach. The rights of the landlord are ignored or seen as irrelevant by the tenant, whose friends and roommates are naturally on the opposite end of an adversarial relationship with what can only be a tall and dark-cloaked figure with a top hat and a greasy, curled moustache who darkens poor welfare recipients' doorways each month to demand exorbitant rent to support his own opulent playboy penthouse. The gun owner, casually visiting the range twice a month to brush up on his target practice, is inscrutable to someone who sees the government as being a more benign entity than his neighbors, or who would equate the killing of an animal for food with killing a human for sport. The moderate religious citizen, no matter how low-key or benign his faith, is automatically folded into an über-class of oppressors by kids opening their minds for the first time-- cataclysmically, like a ship floating through the last trammeled channels of a river delta before suddenly finding itself out at open sea with no boundaries in sight-- to the myriad possibilities of existentialism and atheism and Matrix scenarios; it's so attractive for such a wondering youth to think of the past two thousand years of human experience being a deluded mass fiction that even those who take just a passing part in such a delusion become synonymous with the great perpetrators of intellectual darkness in our species' history. Christianity is old and staid and established, and so it becomes evil. Likewise with so many other traditional hallmarks of conservatism-- gun rights, business-friendliness, acknowledgment of military necessity. Group enough of these memes together, and the college student or young adult can't help but equate "conservative" with a caricature so vile and objectionable that it's inconceivable to look at the underlying realities with clear eyes.

So it's with some disappointment that I still find myself floating through social groups full of people who, if they knew I was no longer comfortable with the "liberal" label myself, would suddenly view me with the same narrow-eyed suspicion as they would if told that I donned a white hood and burned crosses at night. But, naturally, I try to keep my mouth shut, for fear of losing friends. Even the most conscientious and centrist conservative viewpoint can seem callous or cruel to a dyed-in-the-wool liberal; how do you discuss landlords' rights with someone who lives in an unpleasant and overpriced apartment, or discuss the Second Amendment with someone who lives down the street from a kid who was killed at school by a classmate who brought his dad's .38 to campus?

I don't have the answer, obviously. If I did, we'd have the Grand Unified Theory of Politics and the way to universal bidirectional dialogue. But there's that unfortunate one-way tendency of politics to contend with, more's the pity. Lots more people spend their childhood reacting positively to the word "liberal" and with distaste toward "conservative" than the other way around. This leads to a profound imbalance in politics and demographics, one that's likely impossible to resolve.

Of course, there's always the contingency of anecdote: I could describe a conservative as "someone who would pull a gun in order to face down a racist", and surely it would short out a few synapses, particular on one of those ever-present people who seem to be absolutely fetishistic about guns, but who viscerally dread the idea of Americans legally allowed to own them. Just as it would ring hollow with someone quoting FDR or Marx for me to point out that American conservatives are the firmest believers in individual liberty, self-determination, and the innovation and technological and social progress that inevitably follows. Danger! Danger! Does not compute. Conservatives are against progress! Why do you think they call it Congress? Taglines don't lie!

But anecdotes can only go so far; there is, unfortunately, the reality that political schisms and prejudices can't be resolved with a well-placed tactical one-liner. The best I can do is to just hope that as these people grow up and find their place in the world, they'll come to realize why it is that half the American political system consists of people who occupy a school of thought that they reflexively think of as evil. Fifty Senators and 240-something Representatives, to say nothing of the highest elected officers and appointed Cabinet positions-- all evil. Never mind the lifetime of thought and philosophy that leads each such politician to such a platform; never mind how much time each one spends each day thinking about how to advance freedom and personal happiness throughout the country and the world, using the proven tools of capitalistic creation of wealth and individual liberty. These must be meaningless three-card-monte shells, pushed forward to hide an ever-present evil agenda and a black, black, corrupt heart.

I have no problem with people being genuinely in favor of those causes one normally associates with "liberal" thinking. Equality, environmental preservation, assistance to the down-at-heel, spiritual freedom, peace-- these are all fine goals. I believe in every one of them, and firmly. However, I also believe that the paths toward them that are so casually espoused by the Left-- equality enforced and over-enforced by fiat, environmental protection through barriers against business, welfare, abolishment of religion, pacifism-- are superficial and short-term semi-solutions that treat the symptoms rather than the causes. That's why I'm no longer comfortable with the term "liberal". I think there are better paths toward these admirable goals, but they're more subtle, or they involve intermediate steps that may seem counterproductive. To have peace, for instance, you can't just not fight; you have to take positive action toward lasting mutual good-will, which can involve things like the overthrow of tyranny-- in other words, war. To bring happiness to the downtrodden, you need to create wealth in the economy, not just dole out the wealth you already have in the hopes that the recipients will somehow be inspired to achievement (or at least become magically happy); and to create jobs, you've got to make your city a favorable place to run a business, not bleed dry anyone stupid enough to set up shop there. To protect the environment, you've got to let businesses become more efficient and less wasteful as a result of their own internal process development, which is in fact in their own interest.

It's a complex world out there, much more complex than it ever seemed when I was peering out the window of my college dorm. It's full of tradeoffs; but it's also managed to survive this long, and those mysterious and shadowy people over on the right who stand for what I always thought of as evil must actually sort of have a point-- because, after all, it's their "conservative" ideals that have kept this country on the amazingly successful track toward all those "liberal" goals, to which we're closer now than ever before in history.

It pains me to think that I'm what so many people whom I like to think of as friends and kindred spirits would think of as evil. But I'm comforted by the thought that there are as many people there whose ideas can and will change over time as there are people who are forever fixated on the worldview they developed from the comfort of a computer chair, disgusted with being unable to see the Golden Arches across the street because of the smog.

Those images are hard to shake, I know. But it's the starkness of what appears to be their truth that is most insidious about them: there is, indeed, more to the picture, and it can only be revealed with time.

Friday, August 29, 2003
19:40 - Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue...

But I thought they hated us! I thought they'd all posed grinning for photo-ops in April with the soldiers handing out M&Ms, and a month later took up AK-47s to drive out the despised invaders!

An Iraqi couple has named their 6-week-old baby boy George Bush (search) to show their appreciation for U.S. efforts to force Saddam Hussein (search) out of power.

"He saved us from Saddam and that's why we named our son after him," the baby's mother, Nadia Jergis Mohammed, told the Associated Press Television News. "It was George Bush who liberated us; without him it wouldn't have happened."

Baby Bush was born July 11 to Mohammed, 34, and her husband Abdul Kader Faris, 41. His full name is George Bush Abdul Kader Faris Abed El-Hussein.

If the couple had had twin boys, the father wanted to name the other baby Tony Blair (search), because he said both the U.S. and Britain liberated Iraq.

I wonder if anyone in Iraq is naming their daughter Janeane Garofalo?

Just wait, though. The real scoop, the meme that will stick, is this:

As the woman did the interview, little George Bush screamed in his crib.

How very cleverly worded. Someone break out the 24-pack of Pulitzers.

15:28 - ¡Ha! ¡Más!

Frank J. has a list of Fun Facts About Hamas. It's about time someone turned up the satire screws on those turds.

* Hamas is a big part of the "cycle of violence". They blow up innocent men, women, and children, and then Israel is like, "Hey, don't do that." And thus the cycle of violence continues.

And he even thinks Aquaman could kick their asses. That's saying something, for Frank.

13:41 - <bang> <bang> <bang>

Do pardon the forehead marks on the table.

So in the ongoing battle against Microsoft's unbelievable lack of proactiveness in fixing that stupid JPEG/RDF/XML/IPTC header bug (wherein MSIE will go into a death spiral if it encounters a JPEG that contains an XMP packet with profile and path information, such as Adobe Photoshop writes), I've hit another snag.

For background:

The long-time Photoshop users said, effectively, "Well, duh, of course there's a difference between Save As and Save For Web". Obvious to you, of course, but based on the people who have been emailing me, saying "Oh, so that's what's wrong with my site!" plenty of folks are actually using the inappropriate save option for web purposes. That's a user behavior problem and I'm not sure what the best solution is for that. Adobe could add warning dialogs until they were blue in the face, but they'd still fall victim to [Frank's First Law of Documentation].

All available information suggests that XMP data is a documented, accepted extension to the jpeg standard. Without any evidence to the contrary, my perception is that Adobe has committed no crime, and the onus is on Microsoft to fix Windows IE's jpeg decoder. Hopefully someone read my bug report. Nobody from MS has contacted me.

In the meantime, what can web developers do to avoid the problem?

Well, first and most obvious, if you are creating static graphics, use Save For Web. And (hopefully you're already doing this) test your site on as many platforms as you can.

For more dynamic sites, such as snapclub.com, which accept jpeg file uploads from arbitrary third-parties, there is at least one solution; ImageMagick's "mogrify" command can be used to remove the metadata from the jpeg like so:

mogrify +profile iptc image.jpg

...Which I've been using for a month or two now. And it's worked great. Or so I'd thought.

See, I was sure I'd checked to make sure that this command didn't recompress the JPEG while it was stripping out the IPTC header. I was sure it left the image quality alone. But several artists have e-mailed me to let me know that no, this is not the case. The mogrify command does in fact recompress the JPEG, at some arbitrary level (probably the default 60). So all the many thousand images that people have been uploading in the past month have all been recompressed to some godawful level. And it's only now that they've got the better of their politeness and notified me of it.

<bang> <bang> <bang>

It hardly bears pointing out that this is Microsoft's problem to fix, and that while this problem is increasingly widespread with the adoption of Photoshop 7 in web design houses, most Windows users don't even notice what happens (namely, that IE abruptly stops being able to open JPEG images, and spins endlessly upon opening pages, until you hard-kill the process or reboot), figure it's "some damn worm or something", and reboot. Certainly nobody's able to trace it back to some "poisoned" image that IE choked on way back during the person's surfing history. And needless to say, there's been a patch made available, but it's so low-key and so little has been made of it (or people are so distrustful of software patches and the Windows Update process) that nobody has apparently installed it.

So I, the web designer, get the blame from those people who do encounter the problem. And Microsoft gets off scot free. Like always.

And I have to write godawful workarounds on the server side to clean up after Microsoft's incompetence. And the tools I have to do that aren't a complete solution, and indeed can be worse than the original problem. So I'm stuck.

I guess I can still mogrify the thumbnails, so at least people won't have their browsers freeze up in the middle of loading a gallery page-- only when they should happen to open one of the offending images. JPEG quality on thumbnails isn't a big issue. And maybe this will be good enough.

God damn I hate those two words.

Thank you again, Microsoft. Hope you're enjoying your Freedom To Innovate™.

By the way... is it just me, or was Microsoft's current slogan written by Yoda? "Hmmm! Do Amazing Things You Can. With Windows XP, Yes!"

UPDATE: Chris Adams has been down this road before, and he has the answer: jpegtran, which is part of libjpeg (a package that ImageMagick has as an installation prerequisite anyway):

jpegtran -copy none -outfile nometa.jpg meta.jpg

And the resulting file has no meta-data and has not been recompressed. Yes!

So all I gotta do is jpegtran all my uploads, then copy the resulting files back over the source files, and all will be well...

Thursday, August 28, 2003
18:21 - CUHMLHFWS Covert Ops

Damien Del Russo forwards me this guffaw-inducing little gem from the first days of the SoBig storm:

After removing its predecessor MSBlaster, the new worm, which -- just to add to the confusion -- has been dubbed WORM_MSBLAST.D, Nachi and Welchia by various security and antivirus firms, then politely patches the machine against the vulnerability that MSBlaster exploited.

"My computer hasn't been right since it was infected last week," said Nadine Lovell, a Manhattan textile designer. "This afternoon it's working perfectly again."

A scan of Lovell's system confirmed her machine had indeed been infected with the new Blaster variant.

"Thank you, worm!" said Lovell.

Innovative, and amusing-- but somehow it doesn't comfort me that this, the computing equivalent of an entrepreneur innovating his way toward the American Dream, is a lot messier and uglier than Apple's solution, which is to trickle software updates to your machine in the background (if you request it to) and prompt you whenever there's an update ready to be applied. Clean. Centralized. Secure. Friendly.

Makes me feel like such a statist.

15:23 - Self-parody

This kind of thing really shouldn't be this funny. I wish it weren't. But you know, sometimes the only way to keep from crying is to laugh, right?

Music creates vibration in the body and this is conveyed to all the parts of the body through the nervous system. As a result of it, indigestion occurs. Music affects the heart in such a way that the heartbeats becomes irregular. The blood pressure goes awry. All such ailments make a person permanently ill. Consequently, even the modern medical science, in spite of its astonishing progress, fails in such a situation. Sometimes, the music is so intense that the listener loses his sanity. He becomes dumb and various kinds of mental diseases occur. In places, where music is more prevalent, we find that there are more neurotic illnesses. It is for this reason that most of the mental hospitals are to be found in Europe and America.

Dr. Adlen writes against music, "Even though it seems pleasant, the effect of music is profound upon the nervous system. Specially, when the temperature is high, the ill-effect of music is more. This is the reason that ill-effects of music are more in the hot areas of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The American people are so disgusted with the bane of music that they have united to demand from the senate a permanent ban on music. It is a pity that the whole world perceives the evils of music yet is adopting it as entertainment."

The Islamic world will be reformed when they have their own equivalent of the Onion. One that they do intend as parody.

13:49 - Now that's a testimonial

Sure does explain a lot of the world, don't it?

(Thanks to Capt. J.M. Heinrichs.)

05:08 - Who dares challenge the Sultan of Sound, the Maestro of Music, the Titan of Tinnitis?

One thing I noticed, by the way, in my peregrinations across the continent from the land of Queen Califa to the Northwest Passage, was that Apple gear is everywhere in the airports. I'd get off a plane and instantly spot two, three, four TiBooks, iBooks, and telltale round white earbuds with their cords trailing off to discreet little belt-clipped boxes. Sure, there were all the usual road warriors tinkering with PowerPoint presentations on their Dells and Compaqs; but to count the stylin' Mac gear jauntily hanging off the hip young urbanites in every terminal, you'd never guess that Apple has that measly 2% of the market or whatever it claims these days. You'd think half the world owned Macs.

Nothing was more ubiquitous in these settings than the iPod, though. Everywhere I turned I saw those white headphone cords, or someone twirling the wheel with his thumb. Visiting a friend's apartment in Toronto, a Windows iPod box peeked out from behind a PlayStation 2 and a GameCube; even PC users aren't immune to that most peculiar disease of Mac geekdom: saving the boxes that the gear comes in, because they're so damnably cool.

But iPods are certainly not to the point of total penetration. Far from it. Their numbers are dwarfed, especially when you get out onto the streets of Toronto, by those of the people who have the CD-shaped disc-based MP3 players, the ones that have evolved by this point to have barely any more mass or dimension than the discs themselves, albeit covered with little squirmy buttons that look like the blisters on Baron Harkonnen's neck. At subway stations, in malls, in restaurants, people were always carrying these players in one hand as they nodded silently to the beat. And they always held the players horizontally in one hand; these things don't clip to your belt, apparently, and evidently nobody seems to have a problem with the player being so big you can't fit it into a pocket; they're willing to sacrifice the use of a hand for the sake of however much music they can fit on a CD. Call me crazy, but this strikes me as a step backward from the days of minute cassette-based belt-mounted Walkmans. But hey-- who am I to argue, right?

Because there are always things like this: Toshiba's newest iPod killer.

The player, the Gigabeat G20 MEG200J is just 1.27cm thick, a smidge thinner than the 1.55cm iPod. It measures 8.95 x 7.65cm and weighs 138g - the iPod is 10.25 x 6cm and weighs 158.76g.

Inside its limited edition dark "sapphire" blue or standard aluminium shell, the Gigabeat packs in a 20GB 1.8in hard drive. More square than the iPod, the Gigabeat resembles a miniDisc player rather than an MP3 player. The device will play MP3s, but Toshiba is touting its support for Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 format, which presumably means its DRM'd to the hilt.

As the mysterious Male Pattern Baldness Man from Teen Girl Squad might put it: DRM'd!

It's kinda funny, really. Just as the other players in the industry have realized that the iPod is the man to beat, they find themselves reaching in slow motion for the tantalizing doorway of free music mobility just as it closes off its beam of golden light; the market has reached self-awareness, and the music industry will insist not just upon DRM support, but preference for DRM. And for the Windows-based players out there, that means WMA. And WMA is evidently festooned with technical hurdles for the third parties to clear.

The built-in Lithium-ion battery provides enough charge for up to 11 hours of playback - more than the iPod's eight-hour battery life - though that's likely to be much reduced when the machine has to decode WMA9 files.

That doesn't sound encouraging. How come? Why doesn't AAC cause a similar battery drain? Are these rhetorical questions?

Maybe so. Because on the final, Chicago-to-San-Jose leg of my flight home, I found myself overhearing two guys in the row behind me chattering excitedly across the aisle.

"Hey, is that that, um... iPod thing? From.. from--"

"Apple? Yup. It's the new 30-gig model."

"Those things are so damn cool... they're just for Mac, though, right?"

"No, they make 'em for Windows now too."

"Oh, sweet! Oh, and then there's that ... iTunes Music Store, or whatever, right?"

"Yeah, it's really great. I use it all the time."

"That's Mac-only, though, isn't it?"


"That's a shame. Damn."

"I've got all my other stuff on here, though. Look-- it has all my contacts, my calendar events, some games; it syncs like a PDA. It's a hard drive. I can store anything I want on here."

"No kidding? Wow! Damn... how much was it again?"

It was at this point that I could no longer resist; I went from glinting-eyeballs-peering-over-the-seat-back mode to full-bore buttinski as soon as a lull opened up.

"I've got my laptop booted up on mine," I said, holding up my iBook with the iPod connected via its unnecessarily long FireWire cable, draped over my arms like a long silvery Mirkwood spiderweb.

Blank stare. "Booted... what? What do you mean?" (The other guy was grinning ear to ear.) I explained about OS X's boot selection process and how the iPod acts as an external disk, and how I had a full copy of the system on it, on my measly original 5-gig model. By the time we'd taxied to the runway and were spooling up the engines for takeoff, I could swear I'd heard the guy muttering about how he might be able to sneak such a purchase past his wife once he got home.

Mindshare is the game; it's always been the game. It's all about the right place and the right time, and whoever was in charge of getting the iPod to market when it did ought to be relaxing under a palm tree in Puerto Vallarta right now, perched on top of a heap of stock certificates and those burlap bags with "$" printed on them.

He probably isn't, though. He's probably deep in a lab somewhere in Cupertino, working on the next thing scheduled for release, bewilderment, ridicule, torrential sale to early adopters, appearance in strategic pieces of pop culture, grudging acceptance, and eventual ubiquity. And that's just fine with me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
02:56 - Thanks! Uh... you too! Wait...

Kris mentioned this fellow's blog-- a Frenchman who had been naturalized as an American citizen, and ten years later went back home for a visit. He described the experience, as well as the return trip:

At last, in a clean, air-conditioned, body odor- free room, the US custom agent looked at my American passport. He then raised his head, and after he verified I didn’t bring any French cheese, said with a warm smile something I never heard as a French citizen re-entering France: “ Welcome home! ”.

Those were the words that came from the suddenly-smiling mouth of the dumpy little blonde woman who stamped my passport yesterday too. I hadn't known what to expect; last year I'd been barked at by a crew-cut column of a man thus:


"Uh, USA."


"San Jose."


"I'm a software engineer."


"I was visiting some friends. Something I do every year about this time, you know, sort of a trad--"


"Uh... no. What?


"Uh, bleerg? Glassnorpt. Ah-hoogy hoogy bomb! Allahu akbar! Um, I mean, go Raiders!"

So I had no idea what the customs experience would be this time. The card I filled out said that "controlled substances, obscene materials, and firearms" usually weren't allowed into the US, and I was worried that someone might open my bag and be knocked flat by the smell of a week's worth of wilderness laundry and clap me in irons. (There wasn't anything more incriminating in there. Honest. Certainly nothing from Church Street.) I wasn't sure whether it was more suspicious to put down some innocuous number like "$20" for the amount of goods that I'd purchased while in Canada, and then to itemize it as directed on the back as "camera batteries" or something, and if so if they would demand to see me open my camera and verify that it took $20 batteries-- or to enter "$0" and incur that look of "Okay, nobody doesn't buy anything while on vacation. And we're certainly not buying your story, Ahmed." In the end I found myself scribbling out the "$20", itemizing "camera batteries" and "toothpaste", and changing the value to "$0", then emending it to "$10". In other words, making it as incriminating-looking as I possibly could. I figured that way it would look like I was either a) an amazingly disorganized tourist or b) an amazingly disorganized terrorist, and in either case they might let me through on pity alone.

So imagine my surprise and relief when the little woman's stony face and pursed lips tilted up toward me and bulged into a sunny smile: "Welcome home." (Stamp, stamp, stamp.)

I know they make them say that. I know it's part of the ritual, as rehearsed as any telemarketer's script.

But still.

13:35 - Cheerful little campfire songs

I nearly forgot.

While I was in the woods of Ontario, I found an interesting little sheaf of paper in one of the cabins at the camp.

"Camp Songs!" it said at the top. Ah! For strumming with the kiddies around the fire, while making s'mores. For the kids who were in these cabins the previous week. How sweet.

When the night
Has come
And the land
Is dark
And Islam
Is the only
Light I see....

Uhhh.... waiiit a minute.

I'd like to build the world a mosque
And furnish it with faith
Bring Africans and Chinamen
And every human race

Oh... kay.

It went on. For like ten pages. Pop songs, hymns, campfire melodies-- all re-lyricized and filked into Islamic themes.

And not peaceful ones, either. There was one long song that explained in bewildering terms that the US, Canada, and Turkey had all ganged up on Pakistan in order to put Afghanistan through a trial of hell. There were other songs glorifying the day to come when Ottawa would rule a Canada subject to Shari'a law, and the Kuffar States of America too. To say nothing of the Arabic songs that I couldn't translate.

I'd been reading on LGF and elsewhere that these chilling summer camps were being set up all over the US, Canada, and other Western nations. But let me tell you, it's quite another thing to actually come across direct physical evidence of it sitting on top of a bunk bed in a forest bungalow.

12:15 - Not funny


Tuesday, August 26, 2003
03:52 - You Go, National Post

In the Toronto airport while waiting for my flight, I saw that the one newspaper that was for sale on racks outside all the newsstands and snack bars was The National Post. Having some three hours to kill (which became four upon AA's learning of Chicago, my layover, having some kind of Weather Event which meant they had to meter all the flights very carefully in and out and-- rather unfairly I think-- give the summer thunderstorms the right of way, rather like giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats), I picked one up and started reading.

I found myself quite pleasantly surprised. I don't know if the NP is known for being flamingly right-wing or what, but its tone regarding the US was genuinely positive throughout. Sure, it had its criticisms of various pieces of happenstance like corporate malfeasance and Cheney blocking document probes and questions over Liberia and whatnot, but I couldn't find anything that directly criticized us in the way to which I've become accustomed lately. No weird-ass swipes at Bush. No taken-as-given moaning about our genocide in Iraq. The front page, in fact, had a small but very heartfelt story on 9/11 memorial plans for Canadian victims of the WTC. And the other main headline was a kooky story about Camp Julien, the Canadian encampment in Afghanistan, and the camel spiders and scorpions that the officers there are keeping in jars after scooping them off hapless soldiers' boots.

And the editorial page-- ohh, the editorial page. I thought I was drinking from a font of pure silvery water. People I was astonished-- happily-- to hear from. People with a real and studied understanding of American politics. People with common sense. Just look-- here are four of the columns clustered on one of the pages, handily online:

Thou shalt not challenge secularism, in which Hugo Gurdon explains that regardless of whether George W. Bush's openly expressed Christianity gives people in enlightened athestic nations the willies, the US is brazenly secular and has been so-- and irreversibly-- since about 1960. I pointed out to a friend over dinner in downtown Toronto last night that whenever anyone says the US is in danger of becoming a theocracy, I reply that they ought to look at 1919, in which temperance committees managed to convince two-thirds of the State legislatures that they should Constitutionally ban alcohol on moral and religious grounds. Today ain't no comparison. But Gurdon makes an even clearer point: the First Amendment doesn't say that the US shall be a secular nation. It says that the Federal government shall make no law respecting religion at all-- either pro or con. It's a matter for the States. I wish more people would realize that these kinds of things go State first, Federal second-- and the President's word is not law. Besides, while it was all satisfying and stuff to posit that Christianity was inherently evil and espoused hatred as its primary tenet, like back in high school, I find that I'm much more comforted nowadays by someone who knows that not to be the case than by someone who still toes that tired old line.

Iraq is not a place for 'blue helmets', in which Frank Gaffney, Jr. blasts the UN's butting in where it isn't wanted-- by either Americans or Iraqis. Parallels (and deconstructions thereof) to the Bosnia-Herzegovina situation, and incredulity that we'd consider turning over our plans for the country to a body that has Syria as a sitting Security Council member and Libya as the Human Rights chair.

My months of silence are over-- Daniel Pipes breaks NDA and speaks his mind about the charges that have been laid at his feet by people insistent upon proving his racist and genocidal motivations. Finally, now that Bush has given him the go-ahead for the USIP appointment, Pipes can start methodically demolishing those claims. About time.

Begone, Big Brother. Your camera, too-- Lorne Gunter denounces traffic surveillance cameras, providing delicious stories of how they don't even work. The language is one of "freedoms" and "social contracts" and what happens when the two are at odds.

It's not often that I find myself reading an entire print newspaper. But I had the time, and after reading a few sheets, the inclination as well. I'm immensely gratified to find that there's a large-circulation paper in Canada that's willing to take upon itself this kind of stance. I daresay it ain't a popular one.

02:45 - Oh my, a flaming paper bag on my doorstep

Well, I'm back. And joy of joys, I see there's a little present that's been left for me in my inbox.

Well, no-- perhaps little is the misnomer of the year.

It's this new "SoBig" virus that I heard whispers of while up in Toronto, see. The worst Outlook virus ever, so I'm told. Klez-like in its behavior (in that it combs through your cached Web history and e-mail boxes as well as your address book for names and addresses, which it uses to forge both the recipient and the sender, the upshot of which being that anybody who has a popular website with their e-mail address on it will get bombarded with a copy of the worm for every infected person who's ever been to their site, as well as angry messages directly sent from people who think I've been sending them these things), but not in its impact (where Klez had internal brakes to prevent it from propagating exponentially, SoBig does not-- it can send multiple copies of itself simultaneously, for example). The worm's payload is 103K when encoded. It exploits a vulnerability in Outlook that's been patched for months. A patch that nobody on Earth has apparently applied.

Care to guess how many copies of this charming little beastie were to be found in my inbox upon my landing just before midnight tonight? All starting sometime during the evening of August 18, one day after I left on my vacation which I knew in the back of my brain that I'd regret having taken? Go on. Guess how many.

No. Higher.


I'm not kidding. More digits.

Give up?


Twenty-one thousand. For a combined mailbox size of 1.14 gigabytes.

Boy oh boy, am I going to have fun getting this one under control. Ten new copies every time I check for new messages. Oh, sure, I'll filter it out on the server side (somehow). But first things first. I've got to try to download all this crap, then sort it and delete the garbage. Then I'll have to tackle the /var/mail directory on the server and see just how bursting it is. That's all I need-- the server itself to burst its seams over this.

Thank you, Microsoft. Thank you so fucking much. This is just what I wanted to spend my first night back home doing.

You know, I'm going to have to regress a little bit here. For the longest time my feelings toward Microsoft were downright murderous. Then, for the past couple of years, they were mostly just sort of tiredly amused. You know, the old whaddyagonnado? thing. But that's not going to survive this little episode. I can't hold myself back. There's going to have to be some payback, and somehow I don't think I'm the only one who will have been hit in a similar manner or driven to such a pass.

I mean, it's really become self-parody in its purest form, hasn't it? Microsoft announces with great fanfare that it is reorganizing its software development strategies so as to put security above all other concerns. And what follows in the subsequent twelve months but a litany of unprecedented viruses, worms, compromise vulnerabilities, and other hideous failures that would be an irreparable embarrassment to any other company-- that would make such a company into a laughingstock that would thrust the Enron scandal firmly into the sweatband of a cocked hat, in a train-wreck of a performance of a piece of software that I can't turn my back on for ten lousy days without it abruptly mutating and exploding and sending radioactive tentacles everywhere, like some homeless guy from an alley in Toronto who shrieks at the top of his lungs continuously and with no apparent flagging of energy, and who decides inexplicably to follow you four blocks to the subway station, still emitting howls of wordless fury after your retreating back, yet somehow able to buy subway tokens and operate the turnstiles because you hear him screeching furiously in your direction as soon as the subway door opens for each the next five stops up the Downsview-University-Spadina line?

I've had it. I've had it up to here with Microsoft's incompetence, their lip-service to making things better, and their insufferably arrogant attitude towards the consumer. Enough is enough. Too much is riding on the Internet now for companies who pit their fortunes on it not to notice this massive liability they have in trusting the construction of the scaffolding on which they climb to Microsoft. There will have to be a reckoning, because nobody can ignore the irony of a solemn vow of commitment to security and reliability being followed by a year of escalating security breaches of never-before-seen proportions.

Now, don't nobody be giving me no platitudes about how if it weren't Outlook out there serving people's e-mail needs, it would be some other program-- Eudora or Netscape (pbuh) or Pegasus Mail or whatever-- which would invariably be equally as bad as Microsoft's piece of compiled compost, and even worse for business because what purchasing manager would trust his company's fortunes to a firm he can't sue for the sum of his company's market cap? Please. It's been well documented for many years (right here on this page, I might add) that Microsoft's software is garbaceous in ways that other companies with far fewer resources just can't even approach no matter how hard they try. It's like trying to dance against the beat: most companies can't force themselves to produce crap that smells as bad as Microsoft's. It's not possible. Most companies employ human beings with standards of personal pride in what they write. How can such beings compete with the million monkeys hammering away in the lava caves under Mt. Rainier?

Maybe SoBig will fade away to a smirk and a roll of the eyes from the Buddy-Holly-looking guy on the evening news at eight minutes to the hour, just like every other past snafu that whirls in a maelstrom through the Internet every few months with Microsft serene and calm and unruffled at the center. Maybe nothing will come of this, just like always. We'll all just sigh, roll up our sleeves, and pick up the old shit-shovels like we do every time, dutifully spooning Microsoft's clockwork turds into baggies and stirring them into our ice cream to eat with a smile. I can't freaking wait.

I'm thinking maybe we need to start an action group: CUHMLHFWS, or Citizens United to Help Microsoft Learn How to Fucking Write Software. It would be a great philanthropic undertaking, surely one from which the world would benefit.

If anybody needs me, I'll bee knee-deep in twenty-one thousand gallons of solid waste.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

In the San Jose Airport:

"Whenever you see these symbols, connect using a laptop powered by Intel® Centrino™ Technology™!"

No, thanks, I think I'll continue connecting with AirPort, the way I've been doing it since three years before Intel came up with "Centrino".

God, what a great way to start off this vacation. Right under thirty-foot banners advertising the manufacturing house that makes the Xbox, too.

Friday, August 15, 2003
21:10 - Are there bits in de wall?

I just got word that our T1 has been installed.

A good thing, too, because I was about to cease my Good Cop routine and loose the full Bad Cop fury of Lance on the ISP for breach of contract. Recall, after all, that this line was supposed to have been installed prior to July 1.

But today, apparently, there were hours upon hours of people calling on cellphones from the job site (e.g. my house) and from cubicle to cubicle as they squeezed tiny incremental pieces of information from XO, each one accompanied by a whoop of success. When I called for the status report today at about 3:00, it was a very haggard-sounding voice that answered the phone.

And after hearing that, and his nigh-tearful admission that it's out of his hands and wholly in XO's court and there's nothing more he could do until they got the line switched back via XO, and after having read Lileks' spookily well-timed admonishment to ply my telephone handset with honey rather than with vinegar, it was all I could do to muster the gruffness to threaten to nullify the contract if a more favorable deal could not be negotiated, especially in the face of what turns out to be considerably better deals from other T1-grade ISPs in the area.

But he said, "I read you loud and clear," and I felt like an awful heel and a virtuous consumer at the same time. And lo, the bits did begin to flow these thirty minutes now.

There'll be some router machinations later tonight-- because of an unrelated matter, they've got us on a temporary alternate subnet until they reboot their main switch panel and the router we're on for some reason-- but evidently we're on a full T1, not the half-T1 that we'd been budgeting for. It's only $220 extra per month. And hey, what's that between the two parties who are merely the mutual victims in all this, namely the customer and the ISP?

Thank you very much, Pac Bell/SBC. You've made it a hell of a ride. And now we have brand-new sidewalk panels in front of our house, which we wouldn't otherwise have had. Yep-hh.... mighty fine sidewalk panels they are indeed.

And it also means I can blog from home again. So I'll be heading there shortly.

Except that I'm going to be on vacation starting early Sunday morning. So I only get to enjoy the bandwidth for the duration of tomorrow, until I head into the barren and blacked-out Northlands, where there may or may not be a functioning airport terminal to receive me and my tired bones.

Followed by what's sure to be, among other things, a week of baldfaced criticism of the Nazi nation in which I live, the bristle-skulled Epsilon-minus bodybuilder about to seize power in my state of residence, and the dung-and-poison-tipped-nookular-missile-throwing simian occupying the Oval Office.

Just the kind of vacation I need. Yay!

12:19 - Welcome to 2003

Is it just me, or is this not the most tired, well-worn old Vietnam-era canard that's ever been floated in political wartime humor?

This and the whole recent Doonesbury story thread, in which the troops in Iraq are in fact fighting street to street against hardened militia forces holed up in civilian homes, supported by an irate populace intent on nothing so much as driving out the hated invaders.

I know there are bloggers who are actually in The 'Raq right now, who know better, and could e-mail Mr. Trudeau in the hopes of enlightening him, in case there's a chance of his realizing what year this actually is. The reality that I've been hearing from almost all sources is entirely at odds with this desperate fantasy that Trudeau seems intent upon carrying out to its bitter end: why, after 'Nam, and after The Mog, how could this possibly be any different?

I guess there's the possibility that this is tongue-in-cheek, but considering the kinds of things this strip has been focusing on lately, I doubt it.

"Pinned down". For God's sake.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
19:43 - Ah, the mysteries of life

A friend pointed me at this a little while ago, and I've been reading through the entries day by day in astonishment, sucking up a few pages each night through our meager shared modem line multiplexed out into 54Mbps AirPort Extreme (there's a parody of modern technology if there ever was one). My eyes get wider and wider the more I read.

"Enter the Cow-Orker", the site is called. It's the three-year-old-and-counting journal of an unnamed office worker somewhere in Australia, drearily holding his own at some kind of software clearing-house firm, endlessly scourged by an absolutely insufferable excuse for a fellow human being in the next cubicle. The Cow-Orker. Scott Adams' coinage. And Adams himself has evidently given the site his vote of hearty approval.

My only question is, My God-- how in the name of all that's sour can this woman still have a job?

19:36 - Ve haf vays uff making you pronounce correctly

Back in March, I commented on the new Nestlé ad campaign for their caramel-filled Twix (or whatever it is). They had an ad in which two city dwellers sit on some steps and argue about whether it's pronounced caramel or carmel.

I wouldn't have been annoyed by this, except that then the ad scene gave way to the close-ups of the candy bar itself and the youthful announcer talking about the rich, creamy carmel inside. Apparently that famous resort town is not only rich, which we all knew, but creamy as well. And Nestlé's official position is thereby revealed: after giving equal cred to both pronunciations in the presentation of the scene, with the two guys arguing, they themselves came down on the side of the two-syllable edition. Much to my dismay.

So the ad runs its due course and vanishes from screens. Until just a few days ago, when it came back. The city-steps argument is the same, the visuals are the same, everything appear to be unchanged, including the announcer's voice-- except that now the announcer clearly says caramel instead of carmel. Almost unnecessarily sharply and distinctly, too. Rich, creamy care-a-mel.

So what could this sordid tale be? Was the original ad yanked for quality-control reasons, the unapproved pronunciation making it past the ad quality testers? Did they force the twentysomething voice actor back into the sound studio, stick a gun in his back, and hold up big placards behind the plate glass directing him to pronounce it the three-syllable way if he ever wants to see his Xbox again? Are they doing some kind of "Lime Skittles or Sour Apple Skittles-- You Decide!" kind of promotion, whereby through grass-roots consumer appeal Nestlé plans to set in stone forevermore the accepted pronunciation of sticky sugary goo? Will there be two different Twix packages sitting side by side in every candy aisle-- the fast-selling caramel version and the ever-vandalized carmel version, or vice versa, depending on region?

Bring 'em on. I can't wait to see them duke it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
13:01 - That's just mean

So I guess lots of people have probably seen the BuyMusic.com ads that have been airing recently.

It's no secret that they're direct parodies of the iTunes Music Store ads. One of them (I've seen two) features various people rocking out against a white background, like in the Switch ads and the iTMS ads, holding big clunky MP3 players that fill their whole palms while the ads spew promotional text over them. Music downloads for the rest of us! crows the copy. Hey, I'll even give them points for invoking Apple's old "computer for the rest of us" line that they used to sell the original Mac.

But the other BuyMusic.com ad that I've seen goes just a bit beyond the limits of good taste. It's nasty. I know I'm always a bit gleeful when Apple produces ads that poke fun at the Windows side, and I can't resist reveling in the occasional cheap-shot. But Lord strike me dead if Apple ever produces an ad that's as downright ugly and offensive as this second BM ad.

It starts with that same beautiful cherrywood guitar that's the symbol for the iTunes Music Store. On a stand, against a white background, in silence.

Then, this long-haired, unkempt, aging hooligan type-- probably someone I should be able to identify, but looking like an early-80s hair-band member of the type who sings against a backdrop of fireworks and explosions-- comes leering into shot from the side, shuffling like Gollum, grinning madly at the camera. He jumps around the stage a bit, then goes to the guitar, picks it up by the neck, and starts smashing it against the ground. Just like they did in the good ol' days of 80s rock. Whooping and screeching, he trashes that gorgeous instrument, reducing it to splinters as he looses primate screams into the white soundstage.

Then the screen goes white for the copy:

Music downloads for your

I don't see a lot on TV that gives me that physically heartsick feeling, the one where you feel like someone's got his hand in your chest and starts squeezing. But this ad does that. Vindictive, bitter, petty, thoroughly nauseating.

And not for any reason more than the fact that millions of customers, wholly oblivious to the licensing and pricing stupidities of BuyMusic.com's service, are reacting to this ad with cheers and applause.

That's what just makes me quiver. Seeing Apple bring out product after product, service after service, every one the first and best in its field, solely to serve their customer base and give them compelling reasons to be Mac users. And then, without exception, the Windows side brings out a shoddier and cheaper version of the same thing, with a lot of dissonant fanfare from dented and out-of-tune trumpets, mercilessly ridiculing Apple for daring to stick its neck out.

BuyMusic.com would never have been able to get the labels' buy-in without Apple's doing all the uphill negotiating and all the design work around what such a service should be. But now, rather than focusing on making themselves a better service, they're cashing in on the easiest gold mine in the industry: making fun of Apple.

I know nasty competitive ads are not unusual; just look at the satellite dish/digital cable tennis-match of barbs. But-- I just have a problem with people who ruthlessly lash out at an innovator because they're unworthy to shine its shoes.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Kris has written a full-featured web browser in a single line of code, using the Xcode development kit. Remember when Ratbert accidentally authored a web browser when he was trying to introduce bugs for Dilbert to fix? Well, now it's actually possible.

Let's find a way to mock Apple for it.

UPDATE: Stephen informs me that the character in question is Tommy Lee of Motley Crüe.

UPDATE from Kris:

Actually, I wrote no code. The only thing I typed on the keyboard was:
- the program name: "TenStep" (ten steps to create a web browser).
- naming the buttons: "Back" and "Forward" (I wouldn't need this if I used icons for the buttons).
- 3 times holding the control key down while clicking to link the URL text box and buttons to the display pane.

And I used the current release of the Apple developer tools as I don't have XCode, yet.

Press the build button and presto - a browser which handles web sites with frames and javascript.
Doesn't handle pop-ups or target window links... bummer. I'll need code to handle that.

12:32 - Marketing Genius

You know what I think is just completely awesome?

This promotion at Taco Bell. The one where you can win free gasoline for a year.

So let me get this straight. If you eat at Taco Bell... you might get gas?

Can this be knowingly tongue-in-cheek? Do I dare hope?

12:25 - What is wrong with these people?

On the way home yesterday, I heard some top-of-the-hour KCBS newbot talking again about the latest Windows worm. He read off his little card cheerfully, peppily, like he was reading sports scores. And he prattled off the following line:

Many users are finding themselves vulnerable to this worm because they do not use Windows to update their computers.

Uh, no, actually I think the problem is that they do.

The guy was clearly trying to read someone's copy who had a clue about the situation, who had written a line about using Windows Update to update their computers. But this vapid, bubble-headed anchor, who probably happily opens Anna Kournikova viruses every morning, hasn't the slightest clue what he's talking about, and instead has delivered a piece of information that's worse than worthless. "What's he saying-- more people should be using Windows?"

They say that because you always find at least one error in the reporting of any event that you have personal knowledge about, just imagine what that means for all the news you hear.

I think I'll switch back to NPR. They may be slanted, but KCBS is just stupid.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
19:04 - Yawn

What's that you say? Another Microsoft security hole that nobody's bothered to patch, even though Microsoft "nipped it in the bud" weeks ago? And now it's spreading like wildfire, making headlines and crashing computers left and right?

It's getting worse, not better, folks.

18:59 - Crimes of omission

The big flap on the KCBS news every ten minutes is that a repeat child molester, Brian DeVries, has been ruled by a judge to be no longer a threat to the community, and ordered transferred from the mental hospital where he's been kept for the last several years... into a trailer on the grounds of the Soledad prison.

Residents of Soledad are outraged, KCBS reports over and over. Money soccer-mom soundbite: "I'm very disappointed that the judge reached this decision, and didn't try to take any steps to protect the children of our community."

Other pithy quotes:

"This isn't the appropriate location for him," said Noelia Chapa, city manager for the Monterey County town of 13,000 along Highway 101. "He needs to go back to Santa Clara County. We don't want to be the dumping ground here."

"We don't want this guy in our town. This guy is sick," Gutierrez, 43, said. "He should go to a place in the desert where there's no kids around."

To hear the news report, well, hell, absolutely. Why would the judge act so irresponsibly? Why would anyone release this guy from the psych ward?

Why, it's because of one small, insignificant fact that KCBS seems to find it entirely unimportant to report:

To help demonstrate his intent to reform, DeVries was castrated in August 2001 -- a surgery DeVries said took away his ability to become sexually aroused.

Something tells me that most of the wide-eyed interviewees on the street that KCBS and other news agencies keep talking to aren't being made aware of this meaningless little tidbit.

It is as it has always been: just say the magic words To Protect The Children, and the throng will nod along to the beat.

Monday, August 11, 2003
15:57 - Corrupting vulnerable young hearts


"No, Junior! I'm not buying you any more of these awful violent toys. All they do is teach you a lot of bad values! Like treating the President as some kind of respectable figure that kids should look up to, instead of a mass-murdering war criminal who's just like Hitler except without the brains!"

Via CapLion. Y'know, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the product pitch meeting for this item...

15:16 - Weekend Update with Kevin Nealon

No photos this time; sorry.

Which I guess is good, because the front yard actually looks a little bit less kempt than it was last week-- on account of the fact that the edges of the gravel and the weed cloth it's on have all been rolled back so the SBC guys could dig six feet down and lay conduit.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, see, they went down under our gravel patch and prepared to burrow under our driveway. They unveiled their "missile", a five-foot-long metal cylinder that you could about wrap two hands around, fingertips touching. The stick it in the hole, horizontally, hook up a high-pressure air hose to the nether end, and it starts pounding its way through the ground. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! Or at least that's the theory.

Because when they started the missile under our driveway, it got about three feet in and then... stopped. They couldn't get it moving again. They dragged it out, and found that it had shattered into several bedraggled pieces.

So they came out the next day, with a bigger missile, one that presumably cost them even more digits. They dug down on the other side of the driveway, about where we'd dug our trench a couple of weeks ago; they sent the missile in going the opposite direction. It bammed away for an hour or so, then... stopped. They dragged it out; it was split from one end to the other like a hot dog you left in the microwave too long.

I dare not even contemplate how much money this job has cost SBC, in time, labor, and equipment. At least we don't have to pay for any of it-- oh wait, I guess we do. Now we know where all those mysterious fees and rate hikes come from. I guess everyone has me to thank. Ah-heh-heh. Ahem.

So anyway, they gave up and pulled up the driveway, and jammed the conduit in. That was late last week. Now I must call and find out why we're still not online.

Oh, and we planted those trees and shrubs in the front yard. The crape myrtle is now ensconced at the corner of the sidewalk and neighbor's driveway (we should have thought to drop it in while the contractors had their trench dug), and the rear line of the gravel area is lined with new flowering plants that we picked up. Not the azaleas-- thanks to a tut-tutting neighbor and her venerable Sunset Garden Book, we now know that azaleas find direct sunlight to be most distressing. So we moved those to the backyard along with some various birches for a corner grove, and in their place picked up a line of splendiferrus verilligata or something. With the help of my parents and grandma, who all came down to indulge in a bit of overdue-but-yet-premature housewarming, and with the sacrifice of my dad's back, the front yard is now planted. We now just have to wait for everything to take root, and then we can move the gravel back into place and think about irrigation.

So at any rate... I'd better get calling the network people. Though I'm finding it interestingly convenient that I don't have a real connection while I write; otherwise I doubt I'd be making any progress at all.

Friday, August 8, 2003
14:47 - Why don't I ever learn?

I really should know better by now. I really ought to. My hand has been burned at least a dozen times by this, and yet I keep reaching for that protruding handle.

I upgraded ImageMagick again.

<moist towel to the forehead; steaming cup of cocoa held to my lips by concerned friends>

I don't know what possessed me to do it. Maybe the promise that the newest version contains better options to strip out IPTC and XML headers from JPEGs, so Internet Explorer doesn't choke and die upon trying to read images created by obscure software like Adobe Photoshop 7. (Magic command: mogrify +profile \* blah.jpg) Maybe it was the simple fact that my installed copy was a full minor version older than the current release, which always nags at me; no matter how well something is working right now, no matter how little poking and/or prodding it requires, I just can't leave well enough alone if there's a new and better version available. (About the only thing I've been able to prevent myself from upgrading is my scanner software, because even my must-upgrade-everything reflexes can't overcome the lessons I've so painfully learned on that front.)

Some years ago, I upgraded ImageMagick, only to find that all my server-side code-- which automatically generated thumbnails from uploaded images-- had started spewing all over itself, chewing up CPU, and creating some of the most hideously deformed thumbnail images ever. See, I was used to using the following command:

# mogrify -geometry 60x999 blah.s.jpg

...to scale the thumbnail proportionally to 60 pixels wide, with the height being whatever is consistent with the same aspect ratio and 60 pixels wide. A 600x400 picture would become a 60x40 thumbnail. The "999" was a special key number, you see-- it told ImageMagick to scale proportionally. Apparently they'd never bothered to code a proper option for only specifying one dimension, so this hack was the best they could do.

So I upgraded, and found that my thumnails were now... 60 pixels wide, and 999 pixels tall. They'd removed the special handling.

Now I use "9999" for that command. It's still an awful hack, but at least it isn't chewing up my CPU as it tries to blow everything up to a thousand vertical pixels every time someone uploads something. At least, until they change something else and I have to make it "99999".

So now I install the new version, mentally silencing my inner voice and its dire warnings against I-have-no-idea-what, and my script tries to resize a thumbnail. What should happen, but:

mogrify: No decode delegate for this image format (blah.jpg).


I spent about half an hour on the phone with Chris, a fellow warrior in the image-archives trenches. We do numerous experiments, trying to see whether it was GIF support that had broken (the thumbnail was actually a GIF that I'd renamed to .jpg, for reasons that are too complex to get into here), or if my JPEG library had been eaten by disk moths, or if it required X11 and KDE now in order to run its command-line tools, or whatever stupid-ass thing they'd decided to change about the program this time.

Turned out, though, it wasn't ImageMagick's fault. Sort of. Rather, it was the fault of whoever's in charge of its FreeBSD port, or (to go to the Root Causes), the spate of lawsuits that keep spewing out from every popular image format every time the company that holds the patents on it goes out of business and releases its spore-lawyers in a last-ditch Samson maneuver to rake in whatever money might possibly be in the property. Unisys did it, with GIF (though now they have a powerful new friend; the weird holding company that has the IP for JPEG did it.

And now, apparently so as to cover their ass, the ImageMagick porters have ifdef'd out the support for all the popular image formats, the ones ImageMagick is ostensibly designed to handle. JPEG. TIFF. PNG. PDF. TTF. JPEG2000. LZW-based GIF. Never mind that formats like PNG are specifically designed to be patent-free. Someone commented them out anyway.

We discovered it, incidentally, here:

# convert -list format
Format Mode Description
JPC* rw- JPEG-2000 Code Stream Syntax
JPEG* --- Joint Photographic Experts Group JFIF format (62)
JPG* --- Joint Photographic Experts Group JFIF format
LABEL* r-- Image label

See that "---" where there's supposed to be read/writability? Ain't no JPEG support. And GIF says "LZW disabled", which I guess explains why a GIF I converted changed from 30K to 50K.

So here's what to do, if you're on FreeBSD and want to avoid pain. Before building your ImageMagick port, set up these environment variables:

# setenv WITH_JPEG yes
# setenv WITH_PNG yes
# setenv WITH_TIFF yes
# setenv WITH_HDF yes
# setenv WITH_FPX yes
# setenv WITH_JBIG yes
# setenv WITH_JPEG2000 yes
# setenv WITH_LCMS yes
# setenv WITH_TTF yes
# setenv WITH_WMF yes
# setenv WITH_SVG yes
# setenv WITH_DPS yes
# setenv WITH_PDF yes

Feel free to omit any of these if you don't need them. Also, to get LZW-based GIF:

# setenv USA_RESIDENT yes

Please don't set that variable if you're a terrorist.

Then recompile. And wait for the next version to get rolled into the ports, which will contain a new -strip option, which will replace the hacky old +profile \*. Then upgrade again, and prepare for a whole new generation of pain.

14:16 - Fey Unabomber

Great Fisking over at Tim Blair's joint of that bizarre Mark Morford rant.

Because there is more meaning and content and depth and significance in a lover's moan and in a drop of wine and in a dog's wag than in anything you can conjure in your homophobic faux-cowboy Lynne Cheney-thick dream, honey. Get over yourself. We are on to you. We know you are made of nothing but spin and frantic gesticulations and scowls. Poke a finger into you and out pours only sawdust and sighs.

Poke a finger in Morford (wear gloves) and out pours this stuff. Lucky we’ve got some sawdust.

Here is my porn collection. Here are my divine sex toys and my lubricants and my leather strappy things and my collection of happy open-minded perversions and my active account at Blowfish.com and my tattoos and piercings and love of massage oil and vibrators and things that go ooooh in the night. Come on over, Mr. Ashcroft, I have something to show you.

If I was reading this in 1973, and if I was an elderly woman, I might be mildly startled by that paragraph.

Hear, hear. You know, I hope Bush read Morford's column, because I'm sure he would have laughed his ass off.

I get enough of people simpering about how they're in favor of happiness (emphasis on the last two syllables) and The Man is for Christianity and Dour Evil in my non-blog life, thank you. How come some people just never, ever grow up?

Thursday, August 7, 2003
13:43 - Bleataaaahhhje

Today's Bleat is one of the longer and more uproarious ones I've seen in a while. Nice and chewy. Plus he found that Terminator font.

I guess this is what happens when he's prevented from Bleating for a few days. There's always a silver lining!

12:41 - Taking it to heart


Wow... someone at Apple really took those calls for bookmark synchronization seriously. Now, not only can you have iSync keep all your bookmarks current on all your machines at once, now there's this new .Mac Bookmarks deely, which lets you access your same set of bookmarks no matter how you access the Net-- even from, say, an Internet cafe.

It's actually one of those Web pages that's disguised as a standalone app. The idea is that you go to the .Mac website, no matter what machine you're on, log in, go to the Bookmarks link, and this little palette pops up. It's got a Preferences pane and everything, where you can set options like opening in a new window or remembering your password. The bookmarks are all listed in hierarchical List View.

And it syncs back and forth with your Safari bookmarks and iSync, too; they're the other side of the architecture and continue to work as before. But now you can also add bookmarks via the .Mac Bookmarks thing, and they'll be propagated back to all your Safari browsers with their next syncs.

Kinda cool-- the first time you log in on the .Mac page, it prompts you in-browser for how you want to sync for the first time (replace the stock .Mac bookmarks entirely, merge them with your own, or turn off syncing on the .Mac side). The sync process happens right in the browser and doesn't pop up iSync or anything, which makes sense since it's all server-side.

I imagine the next step will be for the Safari team to add a ".Mac Bookmarks" item to the Bookmarks menu, so you can pop it up immediately from anywhere; all you have to do right now is type in "http://bookmarks.mac.com", so it shouldn't be more complex than just a go-to action.

I noticed some bugs-- slowness, mostly, and once there was a database connectivity error-- but then the iTunes Music Store was pretty glitchy the first day too.

I don't know if I'll use this myself (probably about as much as I use the webmail system, which is to say not at all); but for people who demand more flexibility and personalization from their login experience regardless of circumstances, this is a nice little feature-- very well executed, with as much attention to detail as though it were the next killer feature that Apple's future depended upon, rather than as though it's just some silly little afterthought. It's something they didn't by any means have to do; but they could, so they did.


Wednesday, August 6, 2003
01:58 - I hate...

....The way this makes me feel.

Mike Silverman notes this development: brutally, wrongfully detained American Citizen (of Palestinian descent) Mike Hawash, who for months has been supported by a network of well-wishing friends convinced of his innocence, pleaded guilty today of trying to join the Taliban after 9/11 to fight against the US.

This is not the first time this has happened, either, and I hate when this kind of thing happens. I hate it because it leads me ever closer to a conclusion that I can't abide, a conclusion that I had thought I'd never find myself reaching regarding how we need to be acting toward a certain group of identifiable people.

It's a terrible, hateful feeling, one that I had thought unworthy of anyone more moral than a Nazi. But the more times things like this happen, the closer I get to thinking that our only prudent choice of action is to refuse to rule out that any Arab or Muslim-- regardless of his circumstances-- could be a "sleeper".

Our government can't do that. We as a people can't do that. We're supposed to be better than that. Freedom above security, after all. Internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII was a deplorable act, especially in the safety of retrospect. We can never allow ourselves to be tempted to let that happen again.

Even if it's warranted.

Our freedom, and our dedication to it, is our weakness. It must take precedence over security, because in this case the two are at odds. I hate the reality that represents; I hate the way it makes me feel about my own priorities. I hate having to decide between those two mutually exclusive-- but vital-- ideals.

And so we need help. We can't do this on our own.

The US Government needs the help of the Muslim community. Pledged, promised, and delivered. We need American Muslims' help in rooting out the terrorists, in reporting them and bringing them to justice instead of turning a blind eye. Our government can't be the one to keep tabs on those who are at high risk for being or harboring terrorists; neither can non-Muslim Americans, for either would result in massive outcry against civil liberties, and rightly so. Not only would it be shades of Japanese internment and renewed racist suspicion, it would recall the Big-Brotherism of totalitarian regimes the world over that encouraged neighbors to spy on neighbors, or the McCarthyists here at home who exhorted kids to rat out their Red parents. We can't do that, even if we agree with the ostensible goals of such methods, for the methods themselves are slimy. No... the only people we can rely on to help us eliminate the threat is the Arab-American and Muslim communities themselves. It's the only way we can find the terrorists and bring them to justice, without being decried by the Left for unfair profiling or discrimination. It's up to them to help us, because as Americans too, their interests are ours. We must have their friendship, their cooperation, their understanding of our country's needs and ideals and their willingness to act in accordance with them.

I don't know what kind of cooperation we can expect, but it's my hope-- however uncertain-- that the grass roots will speak up and give us the help we badly need.

18:52 - 1000 words


That there be a post-Gulf-War MiG-25 Foxbat, that there be.

Just look at all that desert.

All those dunes.

15:35 - Well, that's a relief

Apparently, Diane Feinstein has decided not to run in the California recall election. This is doubly satisfying in that a) she would have been more popular than Davis, and thus garnered more Democratic votes; and b) now that Davis is running alone, there's virtually no chance that he'll win.

Not that I'm particularly enthused by any of the challengers. It's not exactly shaping up to be a very dignified affair, what with the Dems suing left and right over petty operational details, and with people like Gallagher and Larry Flynt taking up positions on the stump. I'm just as glad Ah-nuld isn't running after all, because in this motley crew nobody would have given him the time of day. "But I aaahm sehrious!" "Yeah, right."

But at least Feinstein won't be running things, for which I am profoundly glad. If Davis has one distinguishing characteristic, it's that he's gotten absolutely nothing done; he always claims to be too busy to appear on interviews, but somehow I doubt he's drowning in paperwork that only the Governor is capable of handling. (Or maybe he is, which would be damning.) But Feinstein wouldn't share that trait.

Aside from being criminally careless with guns in public demonstrations of why she's so firmly against them, she's all in favor of her own right to arm herself. Just not anybody else. When she was mayor of San Francisco, she sponsored a gun buyback program, whereby citizens could voluntarily turn in their weapons for cash. Posing for the cameras, she smugly handed over her own gun. But then a reporter had the audacity to ask her that didn't she have two guns registered to her name? What about the other one?

She had the reporter followed and beaten.

Afterwards, she sponsored a state measure to deny the use of "assault rifles" to anybody but law enforcement bodies and their legal deputies. Guess what she did next? She deputized herself.

I'm not able to find much online about these events, but then Feinstein backs things like making it a felony to discuss drugs on the Internet, so who knows to what lengths she's gone.

It's bad enough that she's in the Senate, but at least there she's got 99 other individuals to help drown her out. In the California Governor's Mansion she'd have the means to do quite a lot more damage.

13:22 - How times change

Tim Blair links to this interesting Nicholas Kristof piece that paints the 1945 atomic bombs as a great boon to the Japanese-- identified as such by Japanese voices of the time.

Wartime records and memoirs show that the emperor and some of his aides wanted to end the war by summer 1945. But they were vacillating and couldn't prevail over a military that was determined to keep going even if that meant, as a navy official urged at one meeting, "sacrificing 20 million Japanese lives."

The atomic bombings broke this political stalemate and were thus described by Mitsumasa Yonai, the navy minister at the time, as a "gift from heaven."

Without the atomic bombings, Japan would have continued fighting by inertia. This would have meant more firebombing of Japanese cities and a ground invasion, planned for November 1945, of the main Japanese islands. The fighting over the small, sparsely populated islands of Okinawa had killed 14,000 Americans and 200,000 Japanese, and in the main islands the toll would have run into the millions.

"The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war," Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief cabinet secretary in 1945, said later.

Some argue that the U.S. could have demonstrated the bomb on an uninhabited island, or could have encouraged surrender by promising that Japan could keep its emperor. Yes, perhaps, and we should have tried. We could also have waited longer before dropping the second bomb, on Nagasaki.

But, sadly, the record suggests that restraint would not have worked. The Japanese military ferociously resisted surrender even after two atomic bombings on major cities, even after Soviet entry into the war, even when it expected another atomic bomb — on Tokyo.

One of the great tales of World War II concerns an American fighter pilot named Marcus McDilda who was shot down on Aug. 8 and brutally interrogated about the atomic bombs. He knew nothing, but under torture he "confessed" that the U.S. had 100 more nuclear weapons and planned to destroy Tokyo "in the next few days." The war minister informed the cabinet of this grim news — but still adamantly opposed surrender. In the aftermath of the atomic bombing, the emperor and peace faction finally insisted on surrender and were able to prevail.

One of Tim's commenters, Scott H., quotes a Farker named Thale who summarizes the malleable historical opinions thus:

"While American scholarship has undercut the U.S. moral position, Japanese historical research has bolstered it."

And goes on:

American scholars: The use of atomic bombs by the U.S. on Japan was a wholly unnecessary thing.

Japanese scholars: No, we wouldnt have surrendered otherwise.

American scholars: Yes you would have. All we had to do was drop Fat Man on a small Pacific island to show you we had it.

Japanese scholars: No, really the military wasnt going to stop fighting.

American scholars: Well if wed allowed surrender with the provision that Japan could keep the Emperor.

Japanese scholars: Look even after you guys dropped both bombs the military didnt want to surrender. It took us beating a downed pilot into saying you had hundreds more Atomic bombs and Tokyo was next for them to even start to budge.

American scholars: Well we were still wrong.

And another commenter, Tokyo Taro, notes:

Scholarship is one thing but politics another. No positive adjective should ever be attached to the use of the bomb. The question is why or why not. Good strategy or bad? The revisionists will always have the advantage of the fact that no one in their right mind would allow themselves to praise an atomic bombing. It automatically results in disqualification from the debate. YOu think WHAT?! On the other hand, the revisionists have the disadvantage of the fact that the bombings ended a war in which the suffering of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just a drop in the bucket and the fact that things have turned out pretty well for both countries since then.

That disadvantage, however, has to be carefully explained to them, while their advantage is right out in the open. Nobody has to educate anybody about how an A-bomb is bad for children and other living things, but if you want someone to understand the concept of the bomb ending much greater bloodshed and preventing more huge numbers of casualties, you have to sit him down in one of those tiny little chair-desk arrangements and whack him with a ruler.

If Iraq has taught us nothing else, it's that. It's all about 3000 inadvertent civilian casualties-- surely we all agree that civilian casualties are bad-- but let none mention the 3000 intentional murders per month that Saddam has had to stop committing because of those civilians' sacrifice. And how do we know history happened in the first place? How do we know there was ever a World Trade Center? Maybe it was all just an illusion-- and therefore what right do we have to go mucking around in the Middle East?

It's not so much "revisionism" as deliberately ignoring crucial cause and effect. Because, hey, that always works.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003
15:25 - "Always trust content from Microsoft Corporation?" "No."

It's unexpectedly refreshing to read about someone else going through this kind of thing, so I know it's not just me. I wouldn't call if schadenfreude; it's more simply a reality check to make sure there are others in my boat.

7. Search control panels in vain for a window, dialog, tab, or pane that displays my current product key.

8. Search Google for "windows xp get current product key".

9. Find a utility on a cracker web page in Russia that displays the current product key. This is one of the more lame utilities, since most of the good ones allow you to change it. I don’t wish to change it; I actually have a perfectly good product key, I just don’t know what it is.

I wouldn't have been able to keep it so civil.

Via Mike Silverman.
Monday, August 4, 2003
21:10 - Hate is okay...

... if the targets are Republicans.

Waaaait a minute. Eric Blumrich? Is this what that creep's doing these days?

Somehow it doesn't surprise me, I guess.

20:56 - This defies parody


18:27 - Exactly

Den Beste has a post on Harley-Davidson's efforts to appeal to a broader market with the V-Rod and a decidedly "un-Harley" image makeover.

...But what price victory if you lose your soul? Harley Davidson is changing everything that makes Harley Davidson what it is...

European men everywhere [will] take pleasure in riding on a castrated American bike.

And they'll never know what they're really missing.

Yeah, but Steven, if you were a Harley rider and you said this, you'd be accused of arrogance and chauvinism, of being blind to Harleys' faults, of ignoring economic realities, of having more dollars than sense, of sentimentalizing an arbitrary corporation that's just as faceless and dispassionate and cutthroat as any other, and so on.

Or even of "drinking the Kool-aid".

I wonder if John Dvorak is listening?

In any case, the V-Rod is hardly what I'd think of as "effeminate".

"Liquid-cooled and therefore antithetical to H-D", maybe, but not effete. But if it's what'll sell in Amsterdam and Paris, what the hell...

UPDATE: CapLion has more on just how non-wimpy the V-Rod is.

17:52 - We Love the Leader!

Yesterday, the reporters on KCBS were running as their topmost story a breathless, bowled-over commentary on the latest e-mail worm to travel through all our inboxes-- the "admin@yourhost.com" one-- and how Microsoft has so amazingly quickly "nipped it in the bud".

The worm in question is the one that goes like this:

From: admin@grotto11.com
Date: Mon Aug 4, 2003 3:19:05 PM US/Pacific
To: Btman
Subject: your account eioeofao
Reply-To: admin@grotto11.com
Attachments: There is 1 attachment

Hello there,

I would like to inform you about important information regarding your
email address. This email address will be expiring.
Please read attachment for details.

Best regards, Administrator

And of course there's a bright, shiny, candy-like attachment for you to double-click on, thereby infecting your computer and sending out another few thousand copies of itself to anybody your machine has ever had contact with.

The news said that Microsoft had posted a fix "within an hour" of the exploit being reported. They ran interviews with "technology consultants" and "security experts" who professed to being astonished by Microsoft's response, hailing it as a clear demonstration of how far they've leaped forward in embracing security as a prime business concern.

Nary a word about how they plan to apply the fix to all the millions of Outlook installations in the world, or address the fact that my inbox is still filling with about twenty of these a day.

This story, by the way, was a major turnaround from how KCBS normally covers such news. Usually they point out how posting a fix is not the same thing as stopping the spread of a virus or worm, and how the real indicator of increased commitment to security is when fewer of these vulnerabilities appear in Microsoft software in the first place. Usually they get someone to phone in a few sound-bites about "genies" and "bottles" and "monopolies that don't have any incentive to provide secure software, because what are you gonna do-- not run Windows?"

So why the sudden change? Did their whole news staff suddenly forget what security is about? Or did someone drop a suspiciously heavy brown paper bag in an alley behind the station?

I'd be interested in knowing if they'll follow this up with a story about how quickly Microsoft posted fixes for the Code Red and Nimda vulnerabilities.

"Why, they were so foresighted, they posted fixes six months before the exploits started to break out!"

Tireless warriors on the wrong front.

12:20 - What a difference crown molding makes

I'm almost done with the upstairs bathroom! Whee!

Okay, granted, it doesn't look like much in these pictures. But trust me-- if you're actually in the bathroom, it looks awesome.

(<BRENDON SMALL>I know what I need: a fisheye lens!</BRENDON>)

The crown molding is what really did it. It's like, you paint the walls some bright primary color, and it looks like a preschool or-- in the case of the other bathroom that we painted deep currant red-- an abbatoir. (Especially if the upper edge is all ragged.) But add some crown molding, and it's like you just raised the room three social-class notches. And so much the better when you finish taping off the caulk line and repainting the edge, and adding the bright gloss white finish to the molding. Which takes a long bloody time. (I really despise standard bristle brushes-- but it's the only way.) And that blue masking tape-- that stuff is expensive! Five bucks a roll? $30 for an economy pack? Ye gods. I hate having to reuse that stuff, but I'm going to have to once we do the molding in my bedroom, with its 16-foot walls.

So, yeah-- then there's the front yard. Here are the pictures I promised:

(Those of you who live in places where real estate is not so precious that you have to shoo the gold panners out of your driveway every morning, feel free to mock the size of the frontage.)

Once everything's planted, it'll look niiice. Azaleas along the back of the gravel area, another line of them along the house, two cypresses framing the picture window, and mock riverbed (made out of largish flat rocks) leading from the gravel up to the wall, just left of the window. And maybe one of those little Japanese wood bridges over it.

And then lighting.

Yes, this is fun. Especially after the fact.

Saturday, August 2, 2003
02:59 - Thy pain, it is felt

Courtesy of Marcus.

02:41 - Taking shape

Today we made some real progress on the front yard.

The limestone boulders and the gravel have already been put down; today, the job was to put in some living matter. Because with just the rocks and gravel (and before that, the rocks and the expanse of weed cloth), it looked like we'd just been raking and managed to dig up some monstrous submerged lawnmower-crackers.

Now there's a line of azalea bushes around the rear edge of the gravel area, and a crepe myrtle tree (trained up on a stake, so instead of being a big shrub with branches sticking up from the ground, the branches start about six feet up, ending in big clusters of white flowers). And a park bench. The plants aren't planted yet, but the effect is an astonishing improvement: we can now tell what it's supposed to look like. Instead of a freakish half-complete afterthought of a landscaping job, like the pepperoni dream of a concrete-obsessed 60s architect, like the petrified bowel movement of a badly impacted dragon, it now resembles nothing so much as a park.

Pictures tomorrow.

Because now I've actually also started to make progress on networking. The AirPort Base Station is mounted on the wall in the downstairs bathroom (if anyone asks, we'll tell them it's an air freshener-- makes it smell like apples), and it's hooked up to cables trained through a pipe embedded in the wall so there's no visible sign of supporting architecture. Except that just before installation, Capri managed to get hold of the clear plastic mounting frame and gnaw it from its original totally unrecognizable shape into a different totally unrecognizable shape. It still fits, but it's a lot uglier now if you take the base station down off the wall.

So now the downstairs iMac and my iBook can freely roam, and they're sharing the copious bandwidth of a 56K modem mostly occupied by game traffic. Woop-de-frickin-hey. But it means I can make some real headway on the book; the first couple of meaty chapters are done, and now it's into the cruising phase. Or so goes the theory.

Anyway, that means I should be able to add some pictures to this post as soon as my camera recharges; actually I guess there's no technical reason I have to have the net up before I can post pictures, and it's more just a psychological thing: if the net isn't available, I feel as though computing is hardly worth the bother. I just wait till work and do it there.

At least it'll be worth it. Today's efforts could indeed have been less strenuous; we got the tree and the azaleas at a wholesale nursery on Southwest Expressway, and in order to get them home we slid them upright into the back of Kris' truck. (The myrtle was in a 24" box.) And then we took off. And not three hundred feet down the road, the myrtle pitched over backwards.

Well, durr, I thought. I shoulda seen that coming.

So after some experimentation with lever positions and stress points and having it lie sideways and drag on the pavement, I decided that the only way to get the thing home would be to prop it back up vertical, lie down in the truck bed among the azaleas, hunker down so as to avoid the roving eyes of cops, and keep a firm hand clenched around the tree. Lance (whom, by the way, I wouldn't describe as a partner, but rather as a good friend) would drive, keeping it under 30 mph if possible, and I would hold the thing up as best I could.

And we made it. Turned out the big problem wasn't so much sharp acceleration (though sharp acceleration wasn't exactly a picnic) as constant velocity; the tree acted as a giant sail, and at any speed above about 20, the tree leaned back against my arm like a slat on an aboveground swimming pool that's about to give way. And the trip was long-- far longer than I would have imagined the span from Bascom/Meridian to the Camden area to ever be. By the time we arrived, the top of the myrtle barely having cleared the bottoms of countless corridors of shade trees and power lines, my body was contorted into a position I hadn't imagined I would ever have found comfortable. I'd had to brace my leg against the liftgate, strut my right arm against the tree, and prop myself up with the left one. After a few minutes of sitting in this position, which to an outside observer would have looked quite a sight-- a pickup truck with its hazards on, picking its way gingerly down Meridian with a bed full of big-leafed bushes and a tall flowery tree sticking up from behind the cab, with a pasty white arm protruding from within the bushes and jammed against its trunk-- I realized that I was okay if I stayed in that position, because my limbs were mostly locked into place and devoid of blood. But if I tried to stand up or reattain any kind of bodily symmetry, I was in for a significant amount of pain as the fluids of my joints flowed back into their accustomed positions. "Just keep going," I kept bawling into the open sliding window of the cab. And we did. The best bet was to just get it over with as quickly as possible. I wouldn't be able to take over a driving shift, no sirree. So it took the better part of an hour, but we made it-- the tree vertical and intact, and with most of its blossoms still attached.

And boy howdy do I have a sunburn now.

So tomorrow we try to make some progress on the kitchen cabinetry, and maybe the crown molding for my bedroom, and/or the pilings for the deck. Technically we should be doing the line of trees for the backyard before we put the deck in, but, well... I think we may want to look into alternate methods of delivery before we go buying any more trees.

Just sayin', is all.

Thursday, July 31, 2003
20:24 - Progress?

Just got word that the SBC guys finally sent some trucks out this morning, and were set up most of the day; they had a whole assembly line going. The goal was to locate the junction box and see what they would have to do in order to connect it with the trench we dug through our flowerbed.

They found the box, buried six feet underneath the sidewalk two houses over, 100 feet from where the trench ends.

They're going to have to get the buried-services-locator guys to come out and slop paint around again, but that shouldn't take more than a day; then they get to dig up the sidewalk over the junction box, sink a water-borer down into the pit, and then dig a Chunnel for the hundred-foot run to the endpoint. It must be something to see, this high-pressure water excavation thingy boring its horizontal way underneath huge expanses of pavement. But I assume they've done it before, so it'll happen and it'll be done right. Sometime in the next couple of days, if nothing more goes amiss.

We're assured that we've done our part, though. It's now in the hands of the Phone Company Gods.

15:08 - Dowd for a day

Just look what Den Beste said today:

...Dogs reproduce by fission.

He said it! He did! Right there in black and white! I agree with Philip Shropshire-- who could possibly take this man seriously?!

... Hee. I kid. I couldn't resist; I am weak.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
14:01 - Notworking

Just a little status report on our ever-lengthening efforts to get a partial T1 into the house.

(And before anyone asks what the hell we're going to all this trouble for, we need symmetrical bandwidth and the ability to host our own servers. We don't get DSL here-- the CO five hundred feet away was installed in the longlongago for a subdivision that was never actually built, so it's "dark"-- and Comcast cable service isn't symmetric and doesn't allow hosting or fixed IPs. This is our only option.)

In mid-June, I signed the contract with the connectivity provider, who I must note has been exemplary with service since day one, as I would expect from a business-grade networking provider. The trouble is that he has to order the line through Pac Bell/SBC, then XO has to do the provisioning. And SBC in particular is a huge faceless monopolistic bureaucracy. It's like having desktop support administered by the DMV. It's like-- well, hell, it's the phone company. All the jokes have already been written.

So anyway, mid-June, and they send out the order. They promise, by the way, that they will have the T1 installed by July 1. Over the ensuing three weeks, however, it transpires from a series of calls to the provider, who tries desperately to get a human voice on the line from within the SBC monolith and not just a terse computerized status message, that the SBC site surveyors have tried on three separate occasions to come to my house and reconnoiter-- only on all three occasions to go to the wrong address. At one point they misread 1787 as 1878. At another, they mistook Spagthorpe Pines Ct. for Spagthorpe Avenue. (Names and numbers have been changed to protect the-- heh-- innocent.) A third time they got the street number and the street wrong. Each time we deluged them with e-mails and phone calls correcting them, and each time it sent the job back to the end of the Holy Favor Queue, so it meant it cost us another full week each time the site-surveyor guy had to stand in the forecourt of a strip mall somewhere making a bewildered cell-phone call to the mothership about how there wasn't any damn house anywhere in sight.

So that was some time ago, ages ago, ancient history. It's a whole new chapter now.

See, the guy finally came out. He looked up and down our front yard, rubbed his chin, and announced that he had no idea where SBC's junction box was. There was no access hatch. There was one labeled "Pacific Bell", but inside there was only TV cable-- the box had been co-opted by Comcast in their recent upgrade pass (for which, by the way, I am massively grateful). Our phone line was buried. Bare. No conduit. Just the bare two lines, dropped in a trench and covered over. We couldn't even try to dig it up, because of all the gas and electrical and sewer and other lines running through our flower bed.

Why not just do without a phone? I asked. You know-- use the two existing phone lines, the existing four wires, to carry the T1. We could put in a new phone line at our leisure. But no-- proceeedure. They'd have to shut off the phone line, verify its being shut off, then put in the work orders to get the T1 provisioned; that would take another week or two, and meanwhile we'd have no phone or network. And while the whole point of this exercise is ostensibly so we can have Internet connectivity at home, we're currently using the phone line as a 24-hour dialup so friends can come over and play MMORPGs all night long. So scratch that.

So we had to dig a new trench and lay new conduit. Which we did. Or, more correctly, we had a guy do it for us. It was the guy who had come out from the City of San Jose when we called the 1-800-POO-GAS-10-10-987-12500DOWNTHECENTER call-before-you-dig number, to mark the sidewalk where the buried lines were. (You call the number, an automated signal is sent out over the Sub-Etha, and hundreds of scuttling bureaucrats come swooping by in vans with cans of orange and red paint, marking where the water and cable and electrical and other lines all go, and then vanish into the night.) So the city guy came back and offered to dig the trench for us. "Times are tough," he said. He was out of work, having previously been a contractor for the phone company. His clothes and car weren't as nice as those worn by the SBC site-surveyor, but he got a whole helluva lot more of my respect. Especially considering how hot a day it was, and how he did the whole job by hand. By choice.

So now there's a trench running through our flowerbed, a four-inch gully cut across our concrete walkway that goes around the side of the house (the ground underneath was apparently once the parking lot for the power substation next door, so it's clay and sand that's packed super-hard-- or, as we like to call it in the parlance, concrete; so no digging the dirt out from under the walkway), and a conduit endpoint sticking up out of the ground next to the input box at the side of the house. The other end of the conduit is in a hole next to the sidewalk, and there's a rope running the length of the conduit, the better to pull the phone line through when the time comes.

Which, we now learn, is an indeterminate time away.

We called the SBC guy back (I wouldn't let him leave, the day he came out and rubbed his chin, without leaving an accurate human name and cell-phone number), and let him know that the trench was ready. So he told us he'd get back to us. And get back to us he did-- yesterday.

I don't know whether he had to go to the house to find this out, or if he just made the proclamation from his truck on the freeway somewhere; but his new insight is that well, fine, we have a trench now-- but SBC still has no idea where the buried junction box is. But-- oh, and here's the best part-- their suspicion is that it's buried directly under the sidewalk.

They have to find out for sure. So SBC Man waits three days for the time-sensitive task to ferment properly, then sends out the work order to have some "exploratory digging" done-- apparently they couldn't have done this any earlier, like at the same time we were getting the trench dug-- and see if they can't find that box. For all we know, we might have put the trench ten feet away from the box. But hell, it's in their court now; all we had to do was get the line to the curb. Now it's up to them. And they have to pay for it. (I've even heard stories about the phone company coming out to install a line, tearing up the sidewalk and a slice of the road, laying the line, repaving the sidewalk and the road, and being done before the sun set. This was the provider's SBC liaison guy whose story it was.) Theoretically my work is done.

Except that if the box does turn out to be under the sidewalk, they'll have to get a permit from the city to dig up the sidewalk. Which means another week or two. And we won't know until tomorrow whether we'll have to do that. But after that they have to recondition the line, because in the 13 years since the neighborhood was built, apparently all of Western technology was invented, and the pavement and technology were all laid down together under the assumption that 1950s equipment would suffice us for the next century at least, or until the nukes flew and leveled the cul-de-sac and allowed us all to start afresh without any of those pesky flower gardens or homeowners to get in the way.

Fine. I'm resigned to the idea of not having any net at home for another couple of months. The provider called me here at work a few minutes ago for a status report and to ask me how things were coming on my end, and I had great fun telling him. I'm past the phase of being angry or frustrated, and am now just enjoying making up new adjectives to use over the phone. Again, the provider guy is being superlatively helpful and sympathetic-- there's just nothing he can do. The moment there is, you can bet, that damn line will be hooked up and we'll be sailing happily away into the bitstream. But for now, we wait. And I try to write desultory book chapters on a machine with no access to Software Update.

I'm sure CapLion will tell me that if I lived in New York, this would all have been taken care of with a tip of the hat by smiling Maytag repairmen six weeks ago. I have to imagine that if we were ordering the T1 from SBC directly, instead of getting it relabeled through a provider, there wouldn't have been any of that "escalation to the manager level" or "not being able to find the address for three weeks"; you'd think, being the phone company, they might even have been able to call the number and ask where the house was, or even look in their database and see where the line was hooked up. But I'm sure that this is all just atonement for some non-specific sin I've committed, and as long as I suffer it in silence (except for long-winded typing) I'll have redeemed myself like Douglas Adams' England.

That's my theory, anyway. And until I come up with a better one, it's what I'll stick to.

Fingers crossed for the damn box being accessible without having to dig up the sidewalk.

13:23 - The Adult Swim guys are such Mac geeks

I first suspected it when they talked about "a few good iPods" to house adoptable tracks from the vast Turner Music Warehouse.

I further lifted my eyebrows when they paid homage to Steves Jobs and Wozniak in one of their tributes to inspirational and helpful people on whom they've relied.

Two nights ago, a photo flashed on-screen during one of the packaging spots, of three writers sitting around a table. Two of them had PowerBook G4s.

And last night, they showed several successive screenfuls of "things they like"-- you know, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, that sort of thing-- and buried in the middle of one of the small-fonted columns was "The New G5".

What devious, cunning individuals. Apparently they were at San Diego Comic-Con this year; now I wish I'd gone.

I bet they do those packaging cards all by themselves in iMovie.

Monday, July 28, 2003
18:23 - Woody Allen, please call your agent

Don't get me wrong, I have the requisite gleeful surreptitious Achewood habit. But:

Uh-huh. Didn't Lileks say that France's opinion of America comes from the 1968 issue of Playboy, and Rachel Lucas observe that most Germans' impression of the US is informed primarily by Baywatch?

Beef, heal thyself.

Jeff Goldblum. Cripes. And what appears to be a CRT monitor. If Onstad is playing this straight, which I suppose I have no reason to believe he is, it means his last Mac contact was circa 1997.

Friday, July 25, 2003
19:28 - Paranoid conspiracy theory

Chris brought this one to my attention.

About three days ago, SCO-- the UNIX vendor that has been suing IBM over its use of Linux, in one of those easily recognizable end-of-life intellectual-property-hoarding death-throes-- announced the acquisition of a company called Vultus, Inc. under terms that were not disclosed.

One of the investors in SCO is a company called the Umbrella Corporation-- er, excuse me, the Canopy Group.

Vultus, Inc.-- a company that "has developed tools for creating Web-based applications" and presumably is a leading supplier of polysyllabic words and other strategic business solutions-- is wholly owned by the Canopy Group, and shares their building.

Now, as Chris noted: What better way to siphon money out of a dying subsidiary company in a clandestine end-game than to have it buy a company that you wholly own?


UPDATE: Well, well.

As Chris says, the best part is how SCO says that their acquisition of Vultus is a "good match" for their UNIX business-- while Vultus' web-development software is Windows-only.

17:47 - Meanwhile, on a different planet...

Sharpton: "I agree with what Bush is doing, and support more of the same! Shame on him! He's a racist!"

16:20 - What do you want from us?

Arab Street: "We will not believe that Uday and Qusay have really been killed unless you show us pictures of the bodies."

US: "Okay, here they are."

Arab Street: "Aaaahhh! That's un-Islamic!"

Geez louise. As Lileks said back in late March or so, whatever.

13:22 - Saber-toothed cow

Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Bill Gates!

Microsoft's new Windows operating system Longhorn will be so different from its predecessors that users may not like it right away, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said yesterday.

"Longhorn is a bit scary. We have been willing to change things," Gates said during lunch at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting in Redmond.

Now that's good PR.


Wait a minute. Scary to whom?

Thursday, July 24, 2003
14:09 - PseudoPod


They just keep a-comin'!

While the iHP-100 certainly lacks the iPod's styling, it does have some neat touches of its own. Like the latest iPods (but not the 10GB version, it has to be said), the iRiver device ships with a remote control unit, but the iHP-100's version has a full-size backlit track information display screen. The iHP-100 also offers digital optical audio input and output ports, and you can hook up any source to digitise sound directly to the player's hard drive. There's a built-in microphone too. The iRiver also contains an FM stereo radio receiver.

But you apparently navigate it using a thumb-dimple joystick, and the screen is cluttered up by the usual Aiwa/Tokyo-at-Night display-candy. Plus it loses out to the iPod in price. (?!)

The iHP-100 connects to a host PC via a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed link. It plays MP3 and Windows Media Audio files. Neatly, you don't need jukebox software to transfer files to the iHP-100 - Windows Explore will do.

Which I guess means no playlists or ID3-tag-based organization, or auto-synchronization. But hey! It's more conveeeeenient! Plugging it in and having it automatically sync everything is too restrictive. Oh, and is that USB 2.0 2.0, or USB 1.1 2.0? I'm sure it's the former. Such naming schemes have the consumer's best interests at heart.

One of these days I'm going to have to put that "PseudoPods" page together, showcasing all these game attempts at, um, flattery.

13:14 - Insanity

Mike at Cold Fury has done what I don't have the will to do: written a cathartic post about the stupefying reaction we've been seeing from the Left to the deaths of Uday and Qusay. It's not a long post, nor a very refreshingly vitriol-filled one; rather, it's faltering and even a little bit resigned-- the way I've been feeling, the reason why I haven't been able to write anything on the subject. I think I know now why I've been feeling so very tired over the past couple of days.

I know that kids under, say, 16 really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to politics; they'll happily espouse completely horrifying viewpoints just because they sound cool. That's all I can imagine explaining this:
Doesn't a part of you wish that Queasy and Duh-day were alive?

I'll admit they're scum and rightfully so, but anything that lands as even more humiliation on W's grotesque shrivelled face is that much the better.

It's sad, really, that as despicable as they are, Saddam's family seems to be the lesser of two evils when you compare them to the wretched little bastard occupying the White House and destroying America in the process...

And I only quote that one because it's particularly representative and memetic, not because similar sentiments (slightly more tactfully worded) haven't been soaking the online and broadcast world, across the mainstream spectrum.

All I'm saying is, shouldn't there be some kind of age requirement for getting on the Net?

Not that that would help. Apparently people from all walks of life are having a hard time seeing why killing Uday and Qusay is a good thing. The fact that Bush exists trumps all.

Lest anyone get the impression that I'm some kind of unquestioning Bush supporter, um, no, I'm not. I think there are many things he could be doing far better. There are also many things he could be doing far worse. About par for the course for a President in an extraordinarily trying historical time.

But I swear, I am so goddamned physically drained after seeing this unrelenting stream of utter bilge from the reactionary Left, especially in reaction to what should have been an unquestionably uniting and praiseworthy event, that I can't even sleep well. I saw some of those conspiracy-theory-munching goons in my dreams last night.

For a long time I've been able to reassure myself, based on poll numbers during the war and such, that most of this country was too smart, too moral, too mentally clear to be sucked in by the endless "yellowcake" bleating and the hammering of these legions of hateful little trolls; but I'm afraid. I really am. I'm afraid that enough people take news sources like the BBC seriously enough, and ascribe enough credibility to any headline that stays on the news for more than two days, that the Left's tactics-- if tactics are what they are-- are working. And if so, it means my faith in the American public to make the right choices is seriously shaken.

That's such a depressing thought that I'm going to have to avoid this subject altogether for some time.

UPDATE: Specifically, some people seem to have the same vacuous, unresearched understanding of the word "McCarthyism" that they do of the terms "Free Speech" or "First Amendment".

God, I hate when people don't do their homework and then get treated like rock stars. It's like high school all over again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
14:52 - There's a name for that sort of thing

Several people have been commenting on this speech by Dick Gephardt in which he says with complete seriousness that the greatest threats to this country are those created by our unwillingness to cooperate with international legal bodies, for our own safety and security-- for instance, the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty.

Now, never mind the arguments that have already been put forth and dished about, for instance by Bill Whittle, who notes that "Even the proponents of Kyoto admit that if fully ratified, it would only delay their own worst-case model’s warming by two or three years over the next century. And all we have to do is wreck the world’s economy." While that's certainly worthwhile, I have a different observation to make.

The other day I heard (on NPR, where else) some guy moaning about how we hadn't signed the Kyoto treaty, thumbing our noses at the rest of the world and the 178 countries who have dutifully signed the accord. He said that countries like Russia have signed it, and their greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily dropping ever since; but over the course of the 1990s, while the US had made some token statements to the effect that we would be attempting to scale back our emissions over time, each year our emissions grew significantly. We appeared, in essence, not only to not be cooperating, but to not be trying to cooperate.

But this guy on the radio noted a critical little piece of information: that Russia's emissions were falling not because they were working to comply with the treaty's regulations, but because their overall economy is shrinking. Industry is scaling back. Factories are closing. So naturally their greenhouse gas emissions are dropping.

Kinda makes the US look a little less malicious, unless you consider success in itself to be malicious. And, we now know, some do.

It also throws some perspective upon those 178 countries that have ratified the treaty. For the vast majority, it was no huge leap to be able to do so. Did anyone fear that Ghana or Nepal were likely to be significant contributors to global warming? It's a no-brainer for non-industrialized nations to sign, or even industrialized nations with small populations. The treaty, it becomes clear, is really only aimed at one specific rogue state.

But that's not even what I was getting at-- it's just the warm-up. The guy on the radio went on to describe how because Russia's economy is shrinking, they are not using their full allocation of "emissions credits"-- and are therefore selling some to the US.

I was coming up to a red light when I heard that, which is fortunate because I would have slammed on the brakes anyway.

Emissions credits?!?

So if I understand this properly: if you're a country that is not in compliance with the Kyoto treaty, or whatever treaty it is that provides for these "credits" that we are a signatory to, you can either put yourself in compliance-- or you can purchase a waiver for yourself in the form of these "emissions credits", buying them from countries that aren't producing enough pollution to be using all the credits that are allocated to them.

In other words, the treaty isn't concerned with pollution at all; it's merely concerned with identifying the successful countries, the ones who can't comply with the treaty's terms without destroying their own economies, and siphoning money out of their coffers and into those of countries that can't help but be in compliance because they're unsuccessful. You can go ahead and pollute, but you have to pay off the poor countries around you.

When the Catholic Church did this, it was called indulgences.

Nowadays, it's mostly known as a bribe.

Or, in slightly different terms, a "sin tax". Levied on the successful, assessed upon the level of success. For the purpose of redistribution of wealth.

I believe I now understand where reasoned cynicism regarding environmental regulation comes from. How come nobody had a booth explaining these stipulations at Earth Day at my high school? If they had booths for Negative Population Growth, Inc., why not this?

Yeah, I know. Stupid question.

13:56 - But is it "Good Enough"?

So the first declared competitor to the iTunes Music Store has been launched: the BuyMusic.com site by Buy.com. 79 cents a song! Wow! They sure undercut iTunes 99 cents, didn't they? I guess Apple is doooooooomed!

... Or not. Judging by the raucous laughter coming from all corners of the tech press today, the new service qualifies as a "Nice Try" at best.

Wired sez:

Although online retailer BuyMusic.com will offer more than 300,000 songs from the five major recording labels, users of the service will not necessarily have the freedom afforded customers of Apple's iTunes service. That service permits transfer of music to multiple computers, portable devices and compact discs.

Jobs secured uniform licensing deals from all the recording companies that allow all iTunes songs to be burned onto CD an unlimited amount of times, save for a restriction against making multiple CDs with the exact same song lists. All songs on iTunes can also be transferred to up to three different computers and to the iPod, a portable digital music player.

Songs purchased at BuyMusic can't currently be played on the iPod.

Blum was not able to obtain uniform licensing rights from the recording labels and artists. As a result, different songs on BuyMusic have different restrictions on how often they may be burned onto CDs or copied to other PCs or portable music devices. They can all be burned onto CDs at least once.

"It doesn't work on the iPod". Sounds like partisan boo-hoo'ing at first, until you realize that the iPod has become far and away the definitive, iconic MP3 player that has defined the modern market. It's multi-platform, it's easy, it's sexy, it's fast, it's full-featured. Everybody takes the iPod seriously now. Not supporting the iPod is like... like... well, like releasing a piece of software that doesn't run on Windows. (Ahem.)

It's all WMP 9's DRM, too, which is a lot more onerous than iTunes' AAC protection. The comments get a lot more fun when you start venturing into the Mac commentary world, such as this post at Geek.com:

Buymusic.com has successfully copied the entire idea of the iTunes music store. The website looks like it was designed by monkeys who were strapped to chairs and forced to stare at the awful color scheme of Windows XP. Hopefully it will flounder based on its failure to adhere to simple guidelines. Some songs can be burned a bunch of times, others can only be burned a few. This will, indeed, be hard to keep track of, but I guess Windows users are used to not being able to keep things organized.

There's a Top 10 Reasons Why BuyMusic.com Sucks list at TheMacMind, which is well worth a read. Chaosmint and Damien Barrett each give it a drive-by panning. But the best bit of all is the one at The Mac Observer, which provides not only a series of incisive observations, such as that the search function doesn't work, and this:

BM's singles downloads begin at 79¢, but we found it difficult to find any. There were some that were priced at 79¢, though there aren't as many as you might hope based on BM's marketing message. Some of Cher's songs are available at that price, which might be why somehow she has the top album in the Top 100 Pop/Rock category. The artists that are more popular, such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly, 50 Cent, Eminem, and Coldplay are priced at 99¢ for a single. This is the same price as the iTMS.

However, if the singles are the same price, why are the EPs and singles with b-sides priced so strangely? American Idol's Clay Aiken has a two-song EP for sale on both BM and the iTMS. Both retailers are selling each song individually for 99¢. The iTMS has both songs together for US$1.98, the price of the two singles added together in one simple "add album" button. It's the BM page that is confusing. Both singles are 99¢, but to buy them simultaneously will cost you $9.49. What?

...But also includes a luscious series of head-to-head comparative screenshots of the various parallel features. Commenters on the article have noticed other shortcomings, like missing thumbnail images and the fact that the reason why the search function doesn't work is because someone programmed the link to it with a backslash (\) instead of a forward slash (/). "C'mon guys! A little bit of testing!" said the commenter in question. Hear, hear.

Now, as many of the aforementioned pundits are carefully noting, it's a Good Thing for the industry, to see another store of this type emerge. Apple's going it alone meant that the labels' willingness to continue to cooperate with the idea of per-song downloads and limited DRM was contingent solely on Apple's success with the iTunes Music Store, and millions-of-downloads-a-week or no, Apple's market share is still fairly negligible compared to what they'd be getting if, say, iTunes were avilable on Windows. Now that there's another player to pander to the Windows side, the labels will be able to see some real, significant income from download sales, and before they know it they'll be entrenched in a new business model, beyond the point of no return. And that's the critical battle.

Still, though-- it's hard to mask the disappointment at seeing such a blatant ripoff of a service shamelessly stepping into the spotlight, making snarky comments like BuyMusic.com's CEO calling Steve Jobs "a visionary, but he's on the wrong platform"-- or, indeed, our schadenfreude at seeing just how badly it sucks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
15:27 - About frickin' time

CNN's big alert banner has pictures of Uday and Qusay on their respective playing cards, with the headline TRUMPED.

Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, were killed Tuesday in a gunbattle with U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said.

Their bodies were identified from "multiple sources," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad.

"They died in a fierce gunbattle," Sanchez said. "They resisted detention and the effort of coalition forces to apprehend them."

Of course, now it's anybody's guess whether Saddam's still out there. But it's immensely gratifying that finally we've bagged some really, really big fish.

UPDATE: And, of course, the usual suspects are reacting to this news with every conceivable emotion except for happiness: they're accusing the US of having had the bodies in freezers for weeks, to trot out in order to push "yellowcake" off the headlines; they're lamenting our cold-blooded assassination of two men who should only have been arrested at worst; they're even latching onto the word "sons" as though it implies that Uday and Qusay were innocent kids. And it's not just these slimy little web worm-dungeons either-- the BBC is even putting scare quotes around the word "dead" and what we callously refer to as "good" news.

That's it. I am through with trying to make sense of how people like this can consider themselves moral and rational and informed human beings.

If I were a praying man, I'd pray that they were fewer than they appear.

13:02 - Amazing coincidence


No connection; no connection at all.

Oh, and read the comments; there's a contributor by the name of "evariste" who makes for some fascinating reading.

Monday, July 21, 2003
15:56 - Smirk me up that grid square

One of the side effects of having all my worldly possessions-- which primarily consist of things that had been stacked on bookshelves, many of which are in fact books-- strewn about my floor in stacks without any particular place to put them is that I'm tempted to do something I haven't really done in years, since before college: reading.

Now, granted, I never was that much of an adventurous reader. I loved big thick books, but only certain big thick books; I would find a few favorites and read them over and over again. I've been through The Silmarillion some twenty times, for instance, and Watership Down fifteen, and the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series until the covers fell off and the paperback spines split. I can't say what the commonalities are between the books I've tended to like, except that I know a book I'll hate the moment I pick it up. Almost all sci-fi/fantasy falls into that category; Tolkien's the one exception to a genre that nearly uniformly makes me furious. And in any case, once I went off to college, my reading time was severely curtailed, and I never really did pick it back up again.

So now that the house work is gradually and slowly beginning to asymptote off, and the things I am doing usually involve a work path as follows: Apply a bead of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; spray a layer of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; apply fingerfuls of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; sand, caulk, prime; paint on a coat of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; repeat; repeat -- I find myself with a number of temporal interstices into which I would normally insert networking time, doing e-mail or blogging or tinkering with code or some such. But that's not possible until the phone company should ever get my house's correct address into their head (they've tried three times now to install the T1, and gone to the wrong address each time, resetting the Beseech a Favor From the Bureaucratic Monopoly clock with each dimwitted call from the middle of a parking lot somewhere miles from my house); and so I find myself sprawling on a couch and reading.

And what should I pick up but the various books by Bill Bryson? They're always a lot of fun, though I should note that they're always funniest the first time through. A long sojourn away from them will also pep them up a little, but I find that if I'm anticipating some cute trick of wording or visualization that I know is coming, such as his extravagant fears in Neither Here nor There about what should happen if he should buy a rubber love doll in Germany and it should flop out of his suitcase and self-inflate in the middle of a crowded subway car, it doesn't give me the lingering, delectable guffaw that I suffered the first time I read that passage-- on a transcontinental red-eye flight, under the dim reading light on my window seat, my paroxysms of silent laughter provoking increasing irritability in the guy sitting next to me and gamely trying to sleep as we soared through the midnight sky over Ohio.

I've always been a fan of Bryson's, I should point out, ever since I was handed a copy of The Mother Tongue by an English teacher at my high school. It's one of the most engaging, comprehensive tomes on the subject of the English language that I've ever run across, and I've read quite a few, many by much more distinguished linguists than he, such as Jespersen and Pei. But I always come back to Bryson. Why? Because there's something about his written wit that I like. It's hard to pin down. He's often described as a Keillor/Kerouac/Barry admixture, but I don't know if that comes near the mark. Bryson spends so much time talking about how bewildered he is by things in the world that I usually find perfectly understandable, and I'm not just talking about computers here, and yet has such a vast wealth of statistics at his fingertips with which to bolster some narrative point or other, that I can never tell if he's as endearingly feckless as he makes himself sound, or if his endless bumbling and gape-mouthed wonder at things like cell phones and underground walkways is all just an elaborate put-on. In which case I find my respect for him is diminished by a significant amount.

Which, I also should note, is the impression I'm regretfully left with after plowing through I'm a Stranger Here Myself, a collection of his columns that he wrote for a local paper after returning to America after living in England for twenty years. Now, I'd loved The Mother Tongue for its wealth of fascinating information wryly delivered; I'd found The Lost Continent, his trek across America, to be uproarious in the best Bryson tradition, though I can't find that one in my bookcase at all now; Notes From a Small Island, about England, was marginally less diverting, mostly because of its monotony; same goes for In a Sunburned Country, on Australia, its interest coming chiefly from the alien nature (to me) of the place. Neither Here Nor There, about his travels through Europe, is the magnum opus, unless it were A Walk in the Woods, the one that really put Bryson on the map, as it were-- his northward hike along the Appalachian Trail. It's in that book that you start to get a glimpse into Bryson's priorities in life, and in I'm a Stranger Here Myself he continues the trend through to its conclusion-- he's willing to devote months toward becoming a wild and scruffy mountain man, able to hike thirty miles a day through sweltering, buzzing mountains, but at heart he's really a cosseted American dad who putters in the yard and wrestles with his taxes and writes long sarcastic tirades about his computer being incomprehensible and unreliable. (DOS-prompt jokes in a 2000 book, even. I wonder.) He spends his Appalachian adventure bemoaning the changing landscape, whose decay he's careful to point out is not always the result of simple crass American industrialism eating away at the natural world-- often it's just, for instance, that the Ice Age is only just now ending, and climates are still changing rapidly, in a geological sense. But over the course of that book and the columns collected in the next, Bryson's disgust with the modern world begins to stick out in sharp relief.

Sure, he remains funny in his later books; that's not in doubt. If I were to characterize his style, I'd say he's what you get if you were to take James Lileks, excise about two pounds of clue from his head along with his conversance with popular entertainment and any smidgen of fascination with modern technology, and instead replace it with several encyclopedias' worth of fascinating environmental and economic and political statistics relating to the past twenty years' worth of American and British history. Also, scoop him up from decidedly practical Minnesota and transplant him to the Imagineered quaintness and contractually quintessent Americana surroundings of New Hampshire, where his neighbors are no doubt the nasally and insufferable cast of Family Guy. And pull the political ripcord and let the spin begin.

There are a lot of points in I'm a Stranger Here Myself where I find myself saying, "Yeah, yeah, I'll let this one slide," with reference to some particularly incisive and slanted barb about something I hold dear. I can take his extravagant rants about the unnecessary complexities of design in personal computers; hell, I write those myself. I can handle his moaning about how the old modular diners from the 30s and 40s are all gone now due to disinterest, but people flock to modern simulations of them like Johnny Rocket's. But I do take exception when I run across those gee-aren't-I-clever statements that I find now and then: If we as a people are advanced enough to send a man to the moon, measure the most distant stars, and cure seemingly incurable diseases, then why can't we design a turn signal that turns itself off if you're not making a turn? or whatever. Things that have very rational explanations, but that I can't explain to the author because this is print media and I can't make myself heard by shouting at the book.

When Bryson spends a column on his slack-jawed stupefaction at the amount of choice you get in American goods and services today, he comes dangerously near to crossing the line: One of the hundreds of cable channels that I get is a twenty-four-hour cartoon network. Perhaps the most astounding thing about this is that the channel has advertisers. What could you possibly sell to people who watch Deputy Dawg at 2:30 AM? Bibs?

Uh, no, Girls Gone Wild videos, of course. Jackass.

Anyway, I understand that Bryson has a new book out in which he denies his statement from I'm a Stranger Here Myself-- that he is competely, woefully clueless about all things scientific, whether physical or chemical or biological or mathematical-- and chronicles the history of the universe and all its component sciences, all in typical smirky Bryson fashion. It might well be fascinating, and I suppose I'd better give it a look, as it stands to reason that it will resemble The Mother Tongue the most closely of all his previous books. And that suits me just fine.

After all, I ought to be able to tell when he's making a salient and amusing or startling point, or when he's blowing a verbal booger like When you are overwhelmed, what is the whelm you are over, and what does it look like? out his nose.

Friday, July 18, 2003
20:57 - Now that's classy

I heard about this yesterday, and went to find it myself; it's not hard. Apple and Volkswagen are running a promo to sell VW New Beetles equipped with iPods. Both companies are prominently featuring the promo, and the popup Flash tour is accessible from either apple.com or vw.com.

I suggest you take a gander at it, too, if you're so inclined. It's one of the most delightful, artfully produced little Flash pieces that I've ever seen.

It was inevitable, really. When two groups of people have so much in common, eventually they find each other. Volkswagen and Apple. Buy a New Beetle. Get a new iPod. And the kit that brings them together (plus a lot of other cool stuff like free music and a $100 Apple Store coupon).

They're right. The two companies do seem made for each other. I bought a Jetta in 1999 because VW seemed to have as likeable a corporate attitude as Apple does, as much as because I liked the car so much; they both have a certain quirky but restrained and very tasteful design sense, and that "cult of corporate personality" thing that I know is a myth in actuality to the employees in the trenches-- though knowing, as we do, the very real differences in corporate atmospheres between, say, Microsoft and AOL, it could well be that companies like Apple and VW can in fact be cut from the same stylish cloth. I love the way my Jetta looks; I love the muscular whirr of the VR6-- just like I love antialiased fonts and FireWire. Both companies make products that people identify with and, indeed, fall in love with. And VW has been pushing relentlessly upmarket-- we're in Touareg and Phaeton country now.

"Pods Unite" is what they're calling the promotion. Watch the ad linked from Apple's site for yet another of those little frissons of well-being like the one you get when you open up a box and are greeted with the word "Enjoy", or when Zephram Cochrane cues up "Magic Carpet Ride" on the sound system of Earth's first warp-ship as it launches from a missile silo.

The kit you get with your Beetle is pretty nice, too. Granted, it's at heart just a cassette-adapter setup, not a line-in option on their in-dash player or anything; but they've done an excellent job packaging the flexibility of what they do have. All the components are white, including the Sony tape adapter and the Monster audio cables and the trick little cupholder insert. Plus VW gives you a couple of CDs' worth of drivin' music, a $100 off coupon for the iTunes Music Store (provided you dump a grand into it), and a 'zine that says YOU ARE NOT A HERD OF CATTLE on the cover.

Seductive. It's like, the way the world would be if materialism-- lovingly crafted materialism-- were the highest form of art.

Is the alliance of companies like Apple and VW a harbinger of a whole new kind of demographic, a white-clad yuppie generation that listens to techno music and goes to raves and surrounds itself with purring technology that just melts into the walls? Or is it the other way around-- that demographic is already here, and it's just waiting for the mothership to call the iPod People home?

16:48 - Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard!

I had meant to post about this a little earlier, when I picked up my iSight, but I got sidetracked by a number of things; but James, who was struck by it just the same as I was, reminded me:

"I nearly wept when I saw that. It's so frickin' Apple."

It's little surprises like that that are just so much fun. When you're a Mac fan, it's Christmas every day.

12:44 - Sunny Day in Arizona; Janeane Garofalo Still a Moron

Forum this morning had Janeane Garofalo and some other Hollywood turd-- Hector something-or-other-- from "Artists United To Win Without War", as I believe they're now called. God-- I've never heard such a circle-jerk in my life. Garofalo kept bleating out statements like, "Of course Iraq was going to be a Vietnam-esque quagmire; anyone who thinks otherwise is alarmingly ignorant, and I hold the popular media criminally responsible for click!" Actually I don't know if she actually said click; maybe it was just me turning off the radio.

Of course, nowhere to be found in the show was the apology that Garofalo had promised to render if the Iraqis should-- inconceivable!-- welcome the American troops.

The assumption under which these people were operating was interesting indeed, though: it was all focused on the fact that the media is too unconcerned with the negative aspects of the war, too conservative. They blamed the news outlets for focusing on Laci Peterson and Kobe Bryant-- okay, granted that they're guilty of that-- but that instead of that, all the media had to do was to poke just a little bit into the Truth and they would crack wide open this massive scandal of a monstrous Lie that was foisted upon the American public, a war that was fought purely for evil reasons masquerading as righteous force. "Americans have an emotional need," Garofalo said, "to believe in the mythology of America-- that America is always on the side of good and right, and whatever the President says-- unless, of course, he happens to be a Democrat-- goes."

The people behind the Drudge Report, the Coulters and Hannitys, she also said, are doing their work not because of any political reasons, but just because of an emotional need for that same mythology that "right-wingnuts" need to fill. And naturally that extends to all the popular media, all the news organs, all the services that claim to be "giving the people what they want". When they show things like Bush landing on the aircraft carrier, it's the government happily using Hollywood as long as it suits them. And of course now there is new fodder for these people to use in leveraging themselves back out of the woodwork-- videotapes of soldiers wanting to come back home, reports of the casualty count exceeding that of Desert Storm-- which they're happily pouncing on (making sure, of course, to paint on their Sympathetic Sad Faces before wagging their fingers on-air and blaming the families of the soldiers for not knowing what kind of corrupt bloodthirsty military machine their sons and daughters were signing up for).

What's most stunning about this whole matter is just, as I have to keep telling myself, because otherwise I just can't believe it, that these people have honestly convinced themselves that our invading Iraq was a bad thing.

I wonder how well one of Garofalo's cynical stand-up routines would play in Baghdad?

Thursday, July 17, 2003
15:49 - Turn off the light

Netscape is dead.

And I don't mean it in some sniffy, pseudo-poetic, God-is-dead kind of way, the way we've all been saying it with resignation since the Judge Jacksons of the world gave way to the Judge Kollar-Kotellys. I mean it quite literally. Dead, buried, paved over. Debranded.

I found this Register story this morning, but heard the sad tale last night from a friend (whom I'll call "Fred", because he still works there), and The Reg has it just about right. Except for the on-the-ground stories, such as of cranes taking down the last Netscape logos from the walls, and hundreds of employees being instructed to report to Security so as to have their badges overlaid with AOL decals to obscure the once-proud N, the Company Who Must Not Be Named from now until forever.

Orlowski points out that when AOL acquired Netscape in 1998, it had market-share parity with Microsoft Internet Explorer. It had more than that, as Fred noted. It had something like 59%. Because IE at that point was so slow, buggy, and lacking in basic features, nobody really imagined that IE's growing slice of the market had anything to do with technical merit; rather, everyone knew it was because it was included by default in Windows 98. Get it under everybody's noses first, and then worry about people's petty demands for functionality. You can't compete with "free" or "ubiquitous", even with a demonstrably superior product. And so Netscape, starting with a seemingly unassailable lead, was falling further and further behind in the market, no matter what it did.

But the real fucker of the matter, Fred mentioned, was this:

On the one hand, the corrupt suits at AOL failed to appreciate the majesty of the Mozilla code, pulled features (such as blocking pop-up windows which AOL's advertisers loved, but users hated), forked willy-nilly, adding adware where they could, and generally betrayed the Great Project.

Feature after feature, innovation after innovation, Netscape's dogged developers would come up with something brilliant-- something nobody else had done-- and just on the brink of release, AOL would step in and decree that it should be removed. Pop-up blocking, ad blocking-- Netscape had it first. Where is it in the shipping 6.x/7.x? Nowhere, because AOL refused to let them ship it. (Actually it seems to be present in 7.1, released three weeks ago, in what was clearly now a last spore-flinging death throe.) Spam filtering and image blocking suffered similar fates, being allowed into the open-source Mozilla version, but yanked from the AOLified Netscape. About the only thing AOL allowed them to keep was the Gecko engine. Meanwhile, all the other browsers implemented these features lavishly and well, so that now the only browsers that don't have things like pop-up blocking are-- that's right-- Netscape and IE.

And that's the thing: Netscape wasn't falling behind its competitors because of a lack of effort or achievement, but rather because of active suppression of such achievement by AOL's suits. After all, pop-up blocking would conflict with AOL's advertising revenue, don'cha know. And the result of AOL's acting like this towards what was once a world-changing piece of software is that instead of Netscape being allowed to bow from the market in 1998, to well-earned applause and the knowledge that it left the game with its honor and respect and good name intact, AOL kept the brand alive just long enough to totally slaughter the reputation that Netscape had built up for itself. AOL didn't euthanize Netscape, which would have at least been respectful; instead, they put it in a nursing home, chained it to a bed, and read it nursery rhymes until it went mad. And then they killed it.

Fred's stories of how AOL is managed internally are nothing short of appalling. Upper-level execs micromanage from across the country, without a clue about what exactly the line people do; they take a department deep in the operational trenches that has a 99% customer satisfaction rating, change the rules of metrics so that they're judged on the same basis as call-center people (must solve problems within ten minutes or bump it up a level-- never mind that the problems this department handles take days to solve, and there's no upper level to bump things up to), and find to their astonishment the following month that it's now the worst department in the company! They impose an onerous corporate culture on employees of acquired properties; they agitate about people not wearing ties or not being in their cubicles at 7:55AM each morning, a culture shock that the Netscape employees never did quite acquiesce to. Even the Time-Warner work environment was unbearably casual to the AOL execs, who forced a culture of clueless top-down micromanagement and structure and process upon a massive organization of loose and disparate work environments, all of whom would undoubtedly have been able to work much more efficiently even than the aforementioned 99% sat rate if only they could be left alone. Employees were even, on their periodic self-evaluations, required to submit a paragraph describing their feelings on loyalty to the company. East Coast corporate politics, clearly, don't sit well with the Silicon Valley seat-of-the-pants style characteristic of just about every notable computer or Internet company except for AOL.

So I won't mourn for AOL if it collapses in on itself. But I do mourn for Netscape, a good name that suffered a knockdown punch (from Microsoft) and then a lingering, poisonous convalescence that led to a thoroughly-- undeservedly-- ignominious death.

There are some lessons we can learn from this, however. We've known for some time, from first-hand experience, the problems with integrating a web browser into an operating system, both made by the same company. Even aside from antitrust-style arguments, it's been shown that having IE woven into Windows introduces a whole plethora of technological and user-interface issues, not least of which is the decidedly ill-informed effort to blur the line between local files and web-based resources, between your own desktop and a Web page. (Surely poor users are bewildered enough without having to try to cram these wildly disparate metaphors into the same mental boxes.) A bug in the browser, such as the one in which IE goes into a brain-dead loop if it encounters a JPEG with XML data in it and refuses to load any more images until you kill the process or reboot, can hobble the OS and its usability. Having the same company in charge of an operating system and a web browser is a dangerous business, and the interface between the two concepts has to be much more carefully managed than Microsoft was willing to accept was the case back when it first floated its inspired integration plans in 1998.

But we also now know that a potentially much larger conflict of interest can arise when the company that makes the browser is also a media company. It was in Netscape's interest to provide its users with the means with which to block unwanted ads, but it was in AOL's interest to keep unfettered access to its users' eyeballs. The two divisions were thoroughly at odds. A media company is going to behave like AOL/Time-Warner does, turning a web browser into a conduit for advertising and purchasing; whereas a company whose goal is to simplify and empower the user of a web browser for its own sake will develop features which defeat that very commercializing tendency. And so this is perhaps a greater risk still to the success of a browser than a clumsy attempt to integrate a browser with an operating system.

The problem, of course, is that browsers are now supposed to be free; so who has the resources to provide free browsers? Let's see: the company that makes the OS, who can bundle it for free; advertising-supported media giants; and open-source tinkerers.

Maybe Mozilla will survive in the hands of the third group, but I'm not terribly optimistic. I'd like to believe that the reason why the Mozilla developers have spent so much effort on what Orlowski calls "esoteric frameworks and note-perfect bug tracking systems that only a nerd could appreciate", rather than actual useful features, is purely AOL's onerousness, and that now that they're free of that they can concentrate on competing head-to-head with players like Opera and OmniWeb and Safari. But it may be too late for that. As Safari has indeed shown, even the Gecko engine is now too big and bloated and full of idealistic mumbo-jumbo to be as workable as the light, quick, but full-featured KHTML. The torch has removed itself from Netscape's supine hand and jumped to a new carrier, and while there will always be contenders against IE-- which after all still has woefully inadequate CSS support and none of the user-convenience features that AOL wouldn't allow into Netscape either-- they're not going to be following Netscape's ideological example anymore.

We have AOL to thank for that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
20:28 - G5 ad


Short and sweet and glib. Just the way we like 'em.

Also, this is interesting-- they've broken out the sound composition/loop development software from Final Cut Pro into its own standalone $299 product, Soundtrack. Damned if I'm not feeling like that might be something worth playing with.

13:08 - Pay attention now






13:02 - Stupid Nature

So I was stripping caulk (huh huh) off my bathroom sink last night in preparation for touch-up painting and recaulking, when I looked into the bathtub and noticed that there was a large stream of ants pouring out of a tiny crack in the grout and milling around down in the drain area. Now, ants are one of the things I'd hoped I had left behind in the old house, but I'm thinking that that was a fool's hope; even after the house had remained effectively empty of food for some three months before we moved in, the ants came billowing out of the woodwork with the very first Coke can that was left out on the counter overnight. So it's either regular tent treatments, or a stepped-up Grin-N-Bear-It campaign.

I've been grinning and bearing it for a few weeks now, and to their credit the ants have been behaving themselves better after that initial night of Coke-induced carousing; they've only made scattered and inexplicable appearances, such as swarming over a plate in the sink with baked-on chicken juice, while bypassing sniffily a whole open box of cookies. I've given up trying to understand the little buggers. Their tastes bewilder me, but if they don't like our cooking, I won't lose sleep if they complain.

So imagine my surprise when I saw-- in my otherwise spotless bathtub-- this cloud of ants gathered around a mysterious puddle of material near the drain. On close inspection I couldn't determine its nature. I looked up at the ceiling-- did something leak through and drip down? Is there a dead candy clown in the attic? Nope. Did the paint touch-up I'd done the previous day somehow fall bodily off the wall and curl up in the tub? Did ants like latex paint? I wouldn't put it past them. But no, that wasn't it either.

Then I noticed it: the round metal cover above the drain, under the faucet, the thing that has that weird toggle lever in some tubs but not this one, was slightly open along the bottom, in a slit along the tub line, as though for ventilation. Into this slit was stuffed a dead moth.

Whether it had crawled in there itself or had been dragged in by amazingly industrious land wasps, this moth was now being carted away in bite-sized pieces into the crawl space. I sat on the toilet and stared at the spectacle for a good ten minutes before grabbing up tissues and noxious chemicals and embarking on the vigorous cleaning process. It would probably behoove me to caulk up that slit while I'm at it, unless it's actually important for drainage or something. But all throughout, all that occupied my mind was a general sense of wounded pride and baleful stolidity, the kind you get if some jokester dupes you after long and careful skepticism into believing some bizarre tale, upon which he laughs in your face and goes SUCKER!

I kept thinking, Yeah, very funny, nature.

Monday, July 14, 2003
18:47 - Well spotted, Bruce!

It is a small world...

Report on Bay Rait and Weta at the Aussie FX and Animation Festival
Tehanu @ 5:00 pm EST
Lolly's Report from the Australian Effects and Animations Festival held in Melbourne back in May, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square. This happened back in May, but I don't think we got such a detailed and funny report as this at the time.

Lolly writes:

Firstly Bay introduced himself and gave a brief run down on his role at Weta, which in TTT was building hero facial systems. He discussed what would be discussed and shown, and we were treated to a 50 minute tape of behind the scenes.

I do believe that's Bonnie Raitt's nephew Bay Raitt, who graduated from my high school, Ukiahi, after my freshman or sophomore year. He was always a performing-artsy type, big and imposing, with a deep booming voice. (He played Charlemagne for the school's production of Pippin, and boy did he look the part.) Everyone expected great things from him. I'd heard offhand that he had gone into film animation, and thence to Weta Digital, where he was working on the Lord of the Rings movies.

And now he's in the spokesman's role, giving demos at animation festivals.


13:11 - Any port in a storm, eh?

There seems to be a problem with a certain lack of critical thinking in America today. At least among the media personalities. If there weren't those opinion polls which stubbornly insist that most people still think going to war was the right thing to do, I'd be starting to despair that this mental laziness were becoming an epidemic.

NPR all throughout the weekend-- particularly on Saturday, to and from the concert in Sacramento, which featured Three Dog Night, Lou Christie, and The Association, among others-- was giddily gleeful in all its headings. The dubious information that was used to justify the war in Iraq! To hear these headlines, you'd think someone had just sleuthed up a secret dossier titled EYES ONLY: OPERATION SCAPEGOAT. ZOG CENTRAL.

On Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, as usual, they led off with their typical raucous Bush-bashing; it was all the more maddening given the recent flap over the Nigerian yellow-cake business. According to the hosts, when confronted with the evidence of prevarication and subterfuge, Bush responded with wide-eyed confusion befitting a toddler. The hosts giggled and dished back and forth for a few minutes, then mentioned that Ari Fleischer had said, "I think the burden of proof lies with those who said Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction-- it's up to them to say where they are." Clearly going for the "You can't make up stuff like this" vibe, one of the hosts followed this up with, "What, is Ari going for a stand-up comedy career after this? I mean, at some point you have to just sit and marvel." Another added, "Hey, it's Comical Ari!"

And that's the infuriating bit: unless you think about it, Fleischer's comment does seem like the stuff of ripe parody-- unless you think about it. I wanted to reach into the radio and grab those guffawing hosts by their lapels and do what I've grown far too tired of doing: explain the reasoning behind the statement. That being that everybody knew Saddam had WMDs, including the UN, Hans Blix, Bill Clinton, the State Department, France, Germany, Russia-- nobody was disputing any of that. We knew Saddam had used WMDs, against Halabja, against Iran, and against our troops in Desert Storm. Iraq had many of those same weapons when the inspectors were expelled in 1998. This was a fact, never in any doubt. Where the weapons went between 1998 and now-- if indeed they aren't in Iraq-- is an interesting question, and one that ought to be answered (if only because we'd rather find them before al Qaeda does); but there is no logical means by which the failure to find the weapons constitutes a lie on the part of the administrations of the US or or Britain in the lead-up to the war. Nor does it change the fact that nit-picking at the dotted I's and crossed T's of the pre-war justification is not just petty and stupid, but an insult to the people of Iraq, some six to nine thousand of whom would have died in the time since March if we hadn't removed Saddam, and whose children would still be in prisons, whose family members would still be in torture chambers, and whose compatriots would still be buried in unmarked mass graves. Complete the sentence: Though none of the other grievances against him are in any doubt, Saddam may not in fact have tried to buy yellow-cake from Niger. Therefore: __________________

(I know! I know! Therefore... he wasn't a bad guy after all, meant us no ill will, never harbored a WMD program, and was loved by his people-- and we ousted an innocent man!)

Statements like Fleischer's seem like self-parody only if you don't think about them. And that's what really gets me: apparently the majority of the American public is able to see and grasp the logic of his reasoning, while the visible media personalities to whom they tune their radios and TVs-- whose job it is to keep up with and interpret the news-- can't. To them, it's all just the obfuscation of a bunch of unelected dunderheads steering this country to ruin, and isn't that just so tragic that we have to laugh to keep from crying?

They also made fun of Ah-nuld's chances at the California governorship, and his recent statements wherein he compared himself politically to Nelson Mandela. Apparently never having listened to a word the man has said on political subjects, they dismissed him out of hand on the basis of-- what? Apparently the fact that he's still making movies as a character actor. "Schwartzenegger's potential voting constituency is bodybuilders, pro wrestlers, movie fans, and Howard Stern," the hosts quipped, adding that "Well, hey, that's most of California." They then said that the next thing to expect would be Keanu Reeves explaining in a press conference why he's like James Madison.

It's funny, so it must be true.

We've trained ourselves not to accept anything on face value-- to assume that there's always more to the story, to assume that whoever's in power is trying to dupe the public, especially if they're Republicans. There's always some nefarious subplot. If one isn't obvious in what people say, then that's just evidence of conspiracy.

It must be an amazingly unfulfilling life, to be that suspicious all the time.

Now people are calling in to Greg Kihn's radio show and stating bluntly that "There are no weapons of mass destruction." And, presumably, there never were. Nor was there ever a Saddam Hussein or an Osama bin Laden. Or a World Trade Center.

UPDATE: Oh, and even Congresspeople are getting into the act. Some guy who said he voted for war is saying that he's shocked, shocked, at the recent revelations. When pressed, he won't say he was "duped" into voting for war, but clearly, clearly the war was fought under false pretenses and therefore for some sinister purpose of the Administration's. Condi Rice knew! She told Tenet to take the fall! Bush didn't know because he's an imbecile! Now an innocent dictatorship has fallen and a people has been ruthlessly liberated to their own destiny! Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

The cognitive feedback loop on the left may have become such that there won't be a voice from there that anybody can take seriously until after a major shakeup-- like on the scale of the death of certain political parties. Bring back the Whigs and Federalists!

Friday, July 11, 2003
21:03 - You can't make this stuff up

There was probably a time, back in the Enlightenment days, when it looked for all the world as though the longer the planet Earth lasted, the more history unfolded, the more knowledge humanity accumulated, the wiser all people would become. People would try grander and grander experiments in science and social engineering and justice and government, and the good ones would succeed and the bad ones would fail. And the cumulative effect of these shared dabblings in the human experience would make us all happier, richer, more decent individuals with an advanced understanding of how humanity works commensurate with the luxury in which the poorest of us live our lives compared to even the richest nobility of earlier ages.

Boy, would they have been surprised to see 2003.

French virtuoso keyboardist François-René Duchable plans to end his career this summer by destroying two grand pianos and burning his concert suit to protest what he sees as the bourgeois elitism of the classical music world, The Times of London reports.

According to The Times, Duchable, 51, told the French Catholic newsaper La Croix that his life as a touring pianist has been "hell" and he delivered blistering parting attacks on some of his fellow musicians.

Alfred Brendel's latest recording, Duchable said, is "discouragingly artificial." Maurizio Pollini has "worn himself out from repeating the same things" and Martha Argerich has "managed to become a myth by always playing the same four concertos."

Duchable told La Croix: "The piano is a symbol of a certain domineering bourgeois and industrial society that has to be destroyed. Used as this society uses it, the piano is an arrogant instrument which excludes all those that don't know about music."

The pianist says he plans to create a sensation with his final three concerts, according to The Times. The first concert, scheduled for the end of July, will end with a piano crashing into Lake Mercantour. The second will finish with his recital suit on fire and the third will culminate with the mid-air explosion of a grand piano to make the statement that "the concert is dead."

After the concerts, Duchable plans to strap a portable keyboard to his bicycle and pedal around France giving impromptu performances, the Times says.

"I have had enough of sacrificing my life for 1 per cent of the population" Duchable said. "I have had enough of participating in a musical system which, in France at least, functions badly and limits classical music to an elite."

Where did we go wrong, Mr. Whittle? How has humanity come to such a pass? Why is it that the closer we get to soaring into the stars, the more we yearn to live miserable thirty-year lives in primitive villages surrounded by wild beasts, fearful even to build a campfire for fear that it would pollute the air, or to murder an animal for food?

Why is it that rather than a dapper and urbane inventive adult on the brink of cosmic enlightenment, our species resembles nothing so much as a suicidal teenager?

(Via a commenter at LGF.)

18:03 - Why I hate MDI

MDI, the Multi-Document Interface, is one of those "innovations" that purportedly makes Windows just so much more convenient and simple to grasp than its nameless competitors. The idea is that you have a "container" window, which can take up an arbitrary amount of screen space, including being maximized to the logical borders of the screen; then, inside the big gray box that the container window forms, you can have an arbitrary number of other windows-- open documents-- that can be moved around within the application's own virtual space. Just like windows on the desktop, document windows in MDI can be overlapped and moved out of the visible screen area.

This is supposed to make it so you can group your application's controls in a modal fashion, so you can control multiple documents within the same application, or show and hide the whole lot of them, with all their functionality subservient to the app itself-- while making the application subservient to the top-level control metaphor of the desktop. Web browsers shun MDI, as well they should; though often it would be nice if you could control all your browser windows at once, or shut down the whole browser app. (The Mac OS, since the active application takes over the whole desktop space and the global menu bar, provides for this functionality and obviates the need for MDI.) But other apps, like Word and Photoshop and Excel, don't; they heartily embrace MDI, regardless of little complicating elements like sharing files between computers with different desktop settings and unalterable anchor positions against the top and left and so on.

So: could someone please explain to me exactly what the flying fart I'm supposed to do with this?

Whee! The document window is too large to show completely in the MDI window, even if I maximize Excel. Not only that, but all its control surfaces which can be used for moving or resizing the window are inaccessible.

I guess I need a bigger monitor!

Either that, or Window->Arrange. Ugh. While Panther is moving the bar with Exposé, when it comes to Excel I'm stuck in 1992.

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© Brian Tiemann