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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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Monday, April 1, 2002
04:21 - It starts...

Well, the first of what are likely to be many surprising April 1st developments among the blogs has been sighted: "AOL/InstaPundit".

Now, as April Fool's pranks go, this one would be pretty lame, especially by Glenn's standards. (I'm usually pretty dense when it comes to these things; my picture often appears next to "gullible" in the dictionary. This one is obvious even to me.) But what makes this one cool is the Register article to which he links. It would seem that web journalists the world over are complicit in this little caper, and the result is merriment for all readers. What ho!

Hey, my server's going back up! Nah, April Fool's.
Saturday, March 30, 2002
01:03 - Token Post

Wow-- I've posted almost exactly nothing today.

I guess there's a fair reason for that, which is that I spent the day with my mom and grandma up in Tiburon, which is the spiritual Kandahar of Marin County-- which, if George Bush is reading this blog (as I'm sure he is), is pronounced ma-RIN, not like Cheech.

Very cute little town; it's almost entirely tourist-ified. The little strand of restaurants where we got lunch looks like a theme park: all the storefronts are just slightly too small to look right. Many of the quaint little shops on the tree-lined shopping streets along the base of the Belvedere hill are actually converted houseboats that have been frozen at their piers between Tiburon and what was once Belvedere Island; the boats docked, and then someone came in with a bunch of dredged soil and filled it all in like quick-drying cement around Daffy Duck's feet while he stood there with a finger upraised and his mouth hanging open.

Then we walked for about three miles in what turned out to be very energy-rich sun, from Tiburon back to our cars at Blackie's Pasture. It was a beautiful walk, but it took all of an hour, and now I'm sunburned. I was so proud of myself for making it through these past two ski weekends without getting burned, and I thought I was home free-- and then, the very next weekend, what do I do? I go get sunburned right in my own backyard. Aarrrgh!

Ah well. It was worth it, I think. At least this reason for being scarce in bloggage is because of my actual life rather than because of stupid server issues.
Thursday, March 28, 2002
13:57 - Ahh, a kindred spirit.


Yeah, this was me as a high school senior. Boy, I'm glad I'm not the only one.

(Although I hope it's not the "track and field" part that he's cheering about. Hmm... now that I think about it, that probably is what he means. In which case, never mind.)
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
03:30 - Your Honor, he wanted killin'.

Okay-- there are always extenuating circumstances, there are always multiple sides to a story. There is always a case to be made for "The other guy's opinions and traditions are just as valid as your own" (so frequently heard regarding cultures like Iran and Talibanian Afghanistan, at least before September). But sometimes you just run across something wherein you realize that some vapor-brained waste of skin is just itching to be made an example of.

The computer whiz then asked the court to identify the plaintiff in the case. Ware explained that the United States was the plaintiff, and was represented by assistant U.S. attorney Ross Nadel. Heckenkamp said he wanted to subpoena Nadel's "client" to appear in court, and Ware asked him who, exactly, he wanted to bring into the courtroom.

When Heckenkamp replied, "The United States of America," Ware ordered him taken into custody.

"The comments that you are making to the court lead me to suspect that either you are playing games with the court, or you're experiencing a serious lack of judgment," said Ware. The judge added that he was no longer satisfied that Heckenkamp would make his future court appearances.

Heckenkamp had been free on $50,000 bail, and living under electronic monitoring -- prohibited by court order from using cell phones, the Internet, computers, video games and fax machines.

Before two deputy U.S. marshals hauled Heckenkamp away, he threatened legal action against the judge. "I will hold you personally liable," he said. "I will seek damages for every hour that I'm in custody."

This, as far as I'm concerned, is why hackers ('scuse me, crackers) need to have their arms pulled out slowly by tractors. These kids think they're invincible, that they're way too clever for anyone to do anything to them, that nobody would dare touch them. This contemptible little turd needs to be put up on that bench and had his "guilty" sentence read loud and proud on national TV, with a nice close-up on his face, so everybody can see just what can happen if you think it's a game to go making life miserable for overworked site admins at high-profile commercial websites.

If only we could, wouldn't we throw the book at hurricanes and floods and earthquakes for all the damage they do? We have to budget for them and buy insurance policies to cover them, because we can't do a thing to control them. We also have to budget for and insure ourselves against hackers, and yet we can control them. They're not a natural disaster, they're people. And that means they can be caught and punished.

I just want to see one of these kids' cocky little asses worked over with a potato peeler and a bag of rock salt, and photos of the results posted to every newsgroup and mischief-making web forum on the net. The fear of God is a wonderful thing, especially when put into someone who has no concept of it.

22:44 - Boy, they sure can name them landfills...

From the "Periscope" section of the March 25 Newsweek:

New York City was planning to release hundreds of vehicles recovered from the WTC area beginning Monday. In recent weeks, city officials sent owners and insurance companies a letter about how to retrieve the cars from the Fresh Kills landfill...

Blink. Wow... especially considering how later in the column it talks about how body parts such as arms, legs, and ribcages were found in the cars, this just seems like serendipity coming home to roost.

More and more I'm thinking that Americans just don't know how to name things properly. (Let's be more like the Brits, with place names like Okeford Fitzpaine-- pronounced "Fippeny Ockford". Or like the Aussies!) And when we do come up with names that pull us up short, it's stuff like this.

Didn't it occur to whoever was in charge of the operation of discarding the vehicles that someone might one day cover that fact in an article? And that this is how it would sound? Ye gods.

16:22 - Just read the cue cards...

Just the other day, I heard another radio ad where the announcer was trying gamely to read off a URL. "Just go to UsedCarBucks dot com, backslash SpecialOffer..."

Why do so many people seem to labor under the assumption that "/" is a backslash? Is it because they were around in the 80s when everything in DOS was based on backslashes, and they assume that, well, now it's the same-- it's all just computer stuff-- it's just that you're typing it into a web browser now instead of a command line?

The fact that URLs contain slashes as path delimiters (that's forward slashes, everybody, in case there's any confusion in your mind-- they tilt forward, along the same direction that the text is going-- left to right; backslashes tilt backwards, back the way the text came) is one of the most visible inroads that UNIX has made into the everyday desktop world. UNIX uses forward slashes as path delimiters, for instance /usr/local/bin/pico. Since the Web began on UNIX, URLs were designed to follow UNIX conventions rather than DOS conventions; if Microsoft had invented the Web, you can bet that URLs would look like http:\\www.whatever.com\.

But whatever the history, it still bugs me no end when I hear people reading URLs over the radio who have obviously somehow never encountered one before. I'm reminded of one particularly egregious example that I heard on KCBS back in 1996 or so. An oldish-sounding guy, speaking slowly and painstakingly, launched off as follows: "Aitch tee, tee pee... semicolon, backslash, backslash... double-you, double-you, double-you..." Aaaaaaugh! I was squirming in my seat before he got to the "w"s. First of all: You don't need to say the "HTTP" part. It's assumed these days-- browsers tack it on by default. And then, it's a colon, not a semicolon! And then they're forward slashes! Blaaah! I mean, his deliberate, reptilian delivery of the words was bad enough-- he was saying parts of the URL that shouldn't need to be said, and only served to waste precious expensive seconds of airtime. I could understand it if he were taking his time because it was a complex URL that he wanted to make sure people heard clearly, but it wasn't! He was just bewildered by these weird symbols in front of him, assuming his listeners were similarly clueless and copying down each letter with a piece of chalk on a little slate, tongue protruding in concentration from the corners of their mouths. But that wasn't even the worst part! He was taking his time, making sure everybody got every last little detail right-- and then he got the details wrong! I guess you can assume that people will be able to just go by what they remember visually as being the proper parts of a URL, but ":" is a colon, not a semicolon, and "/" is a slash, not a backslash. I was seized with mental images of people on AOL uncertainly hunting-and-pecking their way through typing "H T T P ;\\ www...".

These days, of course, things are much better. Websites are designed so you can find current special promotions and important resources directly from the main page, so you only have to add two syllables to the name of your company in order to get the point across. "Visit us on the Web at Megaflicks dot com!" But we still hear the occasional ad where the announcer confidently tells us to type semicolons and backslashes, in what's apparently some bastardized Microsoft Web protocol that's made deliberately incompatible with every browser that only handles http:// style.

(Like how MSIE will render a table even if there's no </TABLE> tag, and so people write sloppy HTML without balanced tags because "Hey, it works in MSIE!"... and then they grouse about Netscape because it (correctly!) does not render the table. So now we have web designers all over the world who have effectively written Netscape users out of the picture simply because they're too lazy to write proper HTML, and they get away with it because of a bug in the only browser they test in, so they don't even know they're doing anything wrong. Of course it must be someone else's fault.)

So anyway, back to the delimiters. A few months ago, Kris and I were talking about how every operating system had its own path delimiter character. DOS/Windows uses the backslash (\), UNIX uses the forward slash (/), classic MacOS uses the colon (:), and so on. To solve all this confusion, we jotted down a proposal for the Universal Delimiter:

It could be used in filesystem paths, in URLs, wherever a hierarchy needs to be described-- and it would be portable from platform to platform.

We called it the Blair Witch. "Aitch tee tee pee colon blair witch blair witch..."

12:06 - A Call to Arms

Well, everybody else is linking to this, and with good reason, so I'd better do the same.

1. Do you care if a few giant companies control virtually all entertainment and information?

2. Do you care if they decide what kinds of technological innovations will reach the marketplace?

3. Would you be concerned if they used their power to compile detailed dossiers on everything you read, listen to, view and buy?

4. Would you find it acceptable if they could decide whether what you write and say could be seen and heard by others?

Those are no longer theoretical questions. They are the direction in which America is hurtling.

Media conglomerates are in a merger frenzy. Telecommunications monopolies are creating a cozy cartel, dividing up access to the online world. The entertainment industry is pushing for Draconian controls on the use and dissemination of digital information.

If you're not infuriated by these related trends, you should at least be worried. If you're neither, stop reading this column. You're a sheep, content to be herded wherever these giants wish.

But if you want to retain some fundamental rights over the information you use and create, please take a stand. Do it soon, because a great deal is at stake.

I hope you're among the latter. I also hope you're willing to take a little time, as I will be doing, to call and/or write your representatives and try to convey just how evil they're being-- how not one sane consumer would be in favor of this act, and how it only serves corporations, and only in a psychological or punitive sense (they want to stick it to the users, regardless of whether their financial woes can be traced to piracy or not, which it can't). And with all the money that the media sector is flinging into Congress right now (now including Saban), we're right on the edge of an entire industry's rights being legislated by the corporations themselves. When enough money flows, any integrity that the lawmakers ever had gets flushed down the storm sewer.

Doesn't anybody in Washington have the guts to stand up in the face of all these millions of dollars and the inevitable Media Mafia and say "Enough! I represent the people!"?

We can only hope so, and try to make them see how important this is. Because there's just one thing we hold over them, of which we can assure them: Not one Senator who votes for the SSSCA (or whatever it's called now) will be re-elected.

It's shutting the barn door too late, I know, but it's the only power we as voters have.

04:22 - Gallows Humor: Corporate Schadenfreude

These days it's not just fuckedcompany.com who have their antennae out for corporate blunders to point at gleefully from the sanctuary of a website that has actual funding. While the aforementioned site was doing so long before the dot-com bubble burst, making fun of stupid decisions made during that era is now the Sport of Kings. Witness this fun article at Business 2.0, "The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business":

3. Banana Republic co-founders Mel and Patricia Ziegler start ZoZa, an "athletic formalwear" retailer, in late 2000. Mel says he expects sales to reach $1 billion within seven years. Gary Rieschel of Softbank Venture Capital invests $16.5 million, telling BusinessWeek, "If you have guts and you have capital, how can you not be optimistic about the consumer market?" Here's how: ZoZa's designers revamp its spring 2001 line, intentionally making their dresses two sizes smaller than labeled. Even the svelte are outraged, and ZoZa's merchandise return rate soars to 80 percent. The company shuts down in May 2001, proving that, if the dress doesn't fit, you must, uh, quit.

7. Last May, Citizens Against Government Waste, a group that received funding from Microsoft (MSFT), is caught simulating a "grassroots" campaign to get state attorneys general to drop their antitrust suit against the software giant. One detail that gives the scheme away: Some of the letters supporting Microsoft are from people who have long since died.

60. Washing Off the Stench of Death, Part 1: Philip Morris (MO) proposes changing its name to Altria, presumably to escape the taint of its tobacco-producing past. It does not, however, stop producing tobacco, which does not stop causing cancer.

61. Washing Off the Stench of Death, Part 2: Making matters even more awkward, the name Altria turns out to be already taken by Altria Healthcare, a firm based in Birmingham, Ala., that is not especially pleased to be linked to a noted producer of poor health.

... And 97 more. Lots of fun.
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
03:41 - Well, good-- that's half a victory...

Well, here's a piece of good news:

The Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) today announced its enthusiastic support for the MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) licensing models recently introduced by Dolby Laboratories. In contrast to the proposed terms for the MPEG-4 Visual license, the approach of the MPEG-4 AAC licensors does not involve royalties on the distribution of audio compressed in the MPEG-4 AAC format.

Hallelujah. So the audio part of MPEG-4 is going to be licensed freely without royalties. But there's still apparently no indication that the video part of MPEG-4 is any closer to a similar agreement, and that will be a prerequisite for the release of QuickTime 6...

But this is still encouraging. If the same execs are in charge of the video part of the codec as the audio part, this thing might actually see daylight. Fingers crossed...

19:50 - The thing is, is that...

Those who know me well are aware that I have a certain... shall we say, sensitivity to various verbal habits and language quirks. (Hey, Chris: Base!) Yeah, "basically" really sticks in my craw, and I've always managed to feel personally offended by "alot" and "alright"-- largely because my teachers spent so many thankless and fruitless hours during my childhood trying to get my classmates to stop using them. But now when even Toyota runs ads with the word "everyday" used as an adverb (as in, "Eat three meals everyday!"), I find myself part of a beleaguered minority who cares for the language as taught in the style manuals.

But there's one thing that I just can't abide, something that has become more and more prevalent lately: the "double is". You know. You've heard it. "The thing is, is that..."

Last Sunday, as I was leaving work after rolling-over the new server and restoring all the services and hoping they'd be okay through the night, NPR with Weekend All Things Considered was on my radio. They were talking about courtesans. Veronica Franco, European politics, and all that. Interesting topic (Dangerous Beauty is a favorite film of mine). But it was wrapping up as I pulled into a gas station to fill up for the drive home.

When I got back into the car and turned on the engine, the first thing-- the VERY FIRST THING-- out of my radio was "The thing is, is!" Aauugh! Oh, but wait: the host and the guest were both saying it, back and forth at each other, laughing. What is this? Ahh, it becomes clear to me: it's a segment called "Language Pet Peeves", and this time "The thing is, is" was their subject.

A caller had brought to the host's attention this little habit, and was assured by the show's resident "verbavore" Richard Lederer that this was not acceptable usage. The caller could rest assured that such a quirk should never be used in writing, and should be frowned upon in speech. He did, however, offer a well-reasoned explanation for why people do it (they treat "the thing is" as one unit of thought, put it behind them, and then move on to the next unit, which is "is that..."), an explanation that pretty much matched my own. In any case, I felt vindicated and happy as I drove home. Pity I hadn't been able to record it, though. Ah well.

Later that night, Chris called up for a squash game. We went in to the gym at about 11:00 PM, played exuberantly for about two hours, and then sat out in the parking lot regaining our breath and talking aimlessly about our respective servers and the tribulations involved in running them. Finally, at about 12:45, we got in our cars to go home.

As my engine revved to life, what do I hear coming out of my radio but-- Courtesans!

Aaaaah! It's the repeat loop of the same show! If I race home at top speed, I might be able to record the Language Pet Peeves segment! I stomp on the pedal, screech out of the parking lot, and spiral my way onto the freeway-- they're talking about how courtesans influenced European politics. Over the giant off-ramp, down the edge of 101 onto the Capitol Expressway exit, and they're talking about Veronica Franco. Down onto surface streets, past the high school, up onto Nieman, and Language Pet Peeves is starting. No matter-- the bit I want is a few minutes in. I skid into our driveway as they're announcing the verbavore. I race upstairs. I dive into my bag of old cassette tapes, and I find an unlabeled, pristine-looking one. Throw it into my stereo, tune the FM station-- c'mon, can't it seek faster than that?-- and land on NPR. And the first thing I hear?

"The thing is, is...! Ha ha haah!"

Nooooooo! I collapse in despair onto the bed. My shining opportunity to enshrine, like a lock of gold from the head of Galadriel, a testimonial to my need for sanity-- gone! It was with a heavy heart that I fell asleep that night, and my dreams were troubled by my elementary-school classmates all saying "heighth" and "nucular" and "alright" and "basically" as they stood in a circle, jeering, flinging dictionaries at my huddled and miserable form.

But then, the next day, I discovered, much to my delight, that NPR thoughtfully provides all their Weekend All Things Considered shows in RealAudio-- both as complete shows and in segments. And there it is, that Language Pet Peeves section, right there for the download. It's the link at the top of this entry. Go on, click it.

I won't let an evening of pointless wasted effort stand in the way of my making a fool of myself.

16:56 - Resentment of Success

Ever wondered why Homer Simpson is so nasty to Ned Flanders, a man who turns every cheek on his body and always goes out of his way to help a guy who'll only kick him for his trouble?

Well, now that we have a real-life case study of exactly this same thing happening on an international and cultural scale, it makes a whole lot more sense.

I've always had success in my life, and so I've never been in Homer's position-- I've never looked with envy upon some rival who garners all the attention and praise and who makes it all the worse by being a nice guy too. So I find it hard to imagine what it must be like; and yet insofar as I can imagine it, I know it must be no picnic. It certainly wouldn't make me feel any better disposed toward such a rival if he offered sanctimoniously to help me out with whatever was getting me down.

Much the same right now. We, the West, are much more prosperous than the Middle East because of our ethos (property, secular rule of law, tolerance, blah blah blah), and they see it and are envious. But like Homer, they make no effort to reflect on themselves, choosing instead to seethe at the success of another and suspect that such success comes at a cost to them. Yet there we are, giving them aid in the Carl Sagan ranges, always willing to offer them a free beer from the keg even if it sometimes is mostly foam. Like Homer, given the chance, they would invite us into their homes on the odd chance they could get away with killing us.

Give this article a read-- it's the kind of thing that makes you blink audibly a few times and nod involuntarily.

It's like some kind of alternate 1984 line: "If there is any hope at all, it is in the blogs..."

16:47 - Cannabis and LSD and hashish are okay-- just stay away from caffeine!


...That is, if you're a spider.

This page is fascinating, though I have no idea what it proves. Presumably that mescaline and LSD don't affect spiders, while caffeine does. So it's not exactly applicable to humans.

Now, what I want to see is a page exactly like this one, only showing web pages spun by geeks on LSD and hashish and caffeine, compared with one by a sober webmaster. Now that would be "making science fun".

16:15 - Corporation Reaches Goal, Shuts Down

A nice little surreal romp, thanks (of course) to The Onion. One of those things that makes your brain just sort of lose its footing, like it stepped in a pothole.

"We did it," founder and CEO Michael Dell said. "Back when I started this company, I vowed that I would not rest until we revolutionized the way computers are sold. Well, at long last, that day is here. Bye."

Which, of course, if you let it, raises questions about "What if corporations actually worked like this? What if our entire business landscape was based on the assumption that corporations would work towards a goal, laid out in their mission statements, upon the completion of which the corporation would be disbanded? What if such a thing were viable?"

It probably isn't. After all, corporations' missions do involve ongoing services. But for the ones who have to keep reinventing themselves...

15:37 - Time-sensitive Documents Enclosed

Steven den Beste weighs in with yet another of his observations on how we, with an ocean between us and the issues (9/11 notwithstanding), continue to treat "peace" in the Middle East as some kind of finish line, a goal that everybody wants just as badly but which is separated from us only by bureaucrats being lazy or playing too much golf or something. We still think it's somehow possible for any of us to stride confidently into Jerusalem, look around at the warring throngs in the street, and yell "HEY! Stop fightin'!" And they'll all stop, look startled, look down with surprise at their clothes and who they're grappling with, and like in Babylon 5: Thirdspace dust themselves off and mutter apologies to each other before going home to their nice houses on opposite sides of the Jordan and watch Survivor.

Well, it's not like that. And from what we've been seeing in the press and the blogosphere lately, the reason is simply that what we have is a clash of two peoples with completely different ideas of what's important.

For the Israelis, it could very well be as easy as described above. If they were dealing with an adversary who acted the way they did, a few high-level summits would be all it took for acceptable boundary lines to be drawn and everybody to be happy.

But the Palestinians don't see things that way. And what strikes me is that the reason is that they don't consider the Intifada to be in any way a time-sensitive conflict. To them, it doesn't matter how long it has to take-- the possibilities are victory or death.

Put yourself in an Israeli's shoes. (This isn't as difficult these days as it used to be.) A building explodes, or a bus full of schoolchildren gets blown up, or a suicide bomber kills a dozen people in a mall. What's your reaction? You want to have justice done and peace restored as quickly as possible. You want to get back to business. You want to have the threat removed so you can go back to your life. Hey, isn't that how we all reacted to 9/11? Sure, we knew that there would be a protracted war against terrorism-- but that it would be fought by our military, overseas, while Tom Ridge watched our backs so we could continue playing Ultima Online. We knew there was the threat of another attack any day, but we accepted the risk more and more the longer we went without such an attack. We have an accustomed lifestyle, and if it's interrupted, the kind of resolution we want is one that's all about expedience. Our lives are time-sensitive. We'll do what it takes to get things resolved now so we don't have to change how we live as a sacrifice toward a longer battle.

(My own experiences with having my server be offline for long periods of time-- while some ISP or co-location company held it hostage while its time-sensitive services languished, their usefulness decreasing with every passing offline day-- have colored my familiarity with this mindset. And the current situation isn't helping.)

But then look at the Palestinians. Compared to the Israeli way of life, theirs can hardly be worse. They have no reason to want a quick resolution. It's not in their interest. They've demonstrated that they're willing to live miserable lives, and even kill themselves, if it contributes to what is now a 50-year-plus Holy War. A quick resolution, one that involves compromise (such as the ones proposed by Barak and others in recent years), would not give them any benefit-- because it would involve taking away the only thing that keeps them fighting, which is vindication of their birthright to the land and their cultural superiority. Any offer which requires that they give up even one of the demands for which they're giving their lives seems to them like an insult heaped upon the graves of those who have died. They've been committed to holding this line, fighting this exact cause, for decades now... and for them to keep doing it for decades more is no skin off their noses. Why should they want peace? Why should they compromise? The threat of more conflict is no threat at all, because they're used to it. It's their way of life. There's no incentive to bring about peace, because none of them have ever known peace. It's not something they have to get back to as soon as possible-- it's an unreachable dream. They're perfectly satisfied to keep going as they are.

The Palestinians-- and many of the established Muslim nations who have similar attitudes toward Israel-- do have it in their power to become cooperative players in the world theater, to accept compromises for the mutual benefit of everyone. But the problem is that they are so convinced that their cause is Right, that they are entitled to privilege, and that the rest of the world can take their secular humanity and their religious tolerance and their gender equality and their economic fulfillment and stick it in their ear. They're the Chosen People, dammit, and accepting a peace proposal with any compromise in it is tantamount to admitting that they were wrong all this time. Unacceptable.

Scroll down a little further in USS Clueless, and you'll see a fascinating account of how Japan's cultural chauvinism was defeated to the mutual benefit of both Japan and the rest of the world. (I've been meaning to write for a long time about how since 9/11 Japan has held a weird comforting sort of fascination for me-- a people so materialistic and entrepreneurial as to be the direct opposite of the ascetic fundamentalism of al Qaeda, and therefore the ultimate in sympathetic benign cultural safety.) Steven says that this is ultimately the only way that Islam will be made a functioning part of the modern world, and more and more I suspect he's right.

The next ten or twenty years are going to involve some severe redrawing of boundary lines. Time to buy stock in a cartography firm.
Monday, March 25, 2002
02:40 - Can't sleep... blog will eat me...

I've got so much to catch up on-- so many URLs to blog about since two Wednesdays ago. So many topics to spout off about-- the Oscars, this past weekend's ski trip, iMovie and FreePlay, the SSSCA (or whatever it's called now), my Packer Award, the new iPod stuff, TV shows and movies...

...But I'm still catching up on sleep from the weekend's going all-out on the slopes. I don't regret it for a moment, but the price I have to pay for it is not being able to talk coherently about it for a few days at least.

Ah well-- at least I've got scads of footage with which to make a movie of the whole thing.

Good night, everybody.

23:05 - Posting from Limbo

Okay... looks good so far.

The www.grotto11.com site is being run from my backup server. I don't know how long it'll have to continue here, but I hope it doesn't somehow suck in visitors to a degree that will overwhelm the meager bandwidth allotment that this server has.

The reason for this situation is that the main grotto11.com server (on which I run all of my personal projects and websites) is currently in a state of confused waiting and shuffling of feet. Ostensibly we're supposed to be moving to a new ISP, but because the machine is offline until such time as not-purely-money-based obstacles over which I have no direct control can be overcome, this will at least be online so I can keep spewing my thoughts out somewhere.

Yeah, I guess that means I have a real blogging problem. But hey! Now people can keep up with what's going on in my life again.

The main server might be back tomorrow, it might be back six weeks from now. I have no way of knowing. I hope it's not the latter, but it's happened before.

But... at least this time there's a backup server. And that's such a load off my mind.

Right... now to start posting all those URLs and ideas I've been ferreting away for the past two weeks.

22:58 - Testing...

Just seeing if we're on..
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
20:16 - Bring On the God Rays

You know, there's an awful lot of really cool stuff that happens during the day. Stuff that I never get to see because I'm at work. I get up, shower, drive in to work in the bland self-absorbed 10:00 hour, when the day is so busy revving itself up that it doesn't have any time to attention to spare toward making the weather or the light or the colors interesting. Then, by the time I'm ready to go home, it's either after dark (in the winter)-- a featureless mass of headlights and vague shapes; or it's winding down into a summer evening, the stillness setting in. Summer evenings are awesome in their own right, but that's only a quarter of the "day" periods that I ever get to experience during the week.

I seldom see something like today, for instance. On the way back from picking up my car from the dealer's, where Kris kindly dropped me off, the clouds were bunching into those fire-edged, cottony formations-- the ones that look simultaneously menacing and exuberant. We don't get thunderheads around here, not like in the Midwest; instead, when we do get interesting clouds, what we get are these miniature versions of them: unruly mobs of clouds, clustering together, breaking off to join new unions, waving their white-hot edges and shouting anti-Sun slogans. My route back to work took me west, and the sun was right in front of me as I proceeded-- but it was masked by these crowds of clouds and kept out of my eyes. Instead of having to squint, I drove home through a valley where the air had suddenly seemed to turn to gold. The glints off the cars around me seemed to wash together; the freeway was bright, polished, carefully crafted. No smog stood in the way. And in the distance, the mountains-- normally friendly masses hemming my line of sight, today they were ponderous hulks, about twice as tall as usual; the clouds were perching on the crest of the Santa Cruz Hills, their tops stretching into the blue, and their bottoms melting into a vapory haze which obscured the real line of the hilltops. Good photographers know that the judicious use of cropping can make a mountain look twice as tall or a valley twice as deep; in this case, the clouds did the cropping for me, and I felt like I was in Switzerland or Mordor or something.

And, naturally, where the sun was obscured by a riotous cloud, the cloud couldn't hold back the beams of light that shot down through any convenient gaps through that misty vapor. They're what Hiker calls God Rays, those things that shoot out of clouds (along with angelic choirs) to wreathe Moses or Simba with Hero-of-the-Movie-ness. In this case, they weren't shining on anything in particular, but they certainly did put me in mind of those light towers in Manhattan.

Crop out the tops of the WTC towers, a photographer might say, and you can make a photo of them look like they extend on up forever. And they would, if only they weren't earthly physical structures. Well, now they're not, and they do.

Marcus Aanerud, way back when (on February 7th, to be exact), noted that the paranormal activity sightings around Ground Zero are going to be the stuff of many a network-TV special in years and decades to come. Hiker's observations would seem to bear that out. After all, these lights that we've just created are the ghosts of the buildings. It's like a cropped photo or a blurry matte painting-- all vertical lines, no sense of finality. There's nothing substantial to them, but they make visible what we all know is there.

Eventually they'll be turned off, and something else will be built on the site. I still have a silly guilty sort of desire to see the towers rebuilt exactly as they were-- they were ugly and gauche, yes, but they were so perfect for what they tried to represent. All vertical lines, no features to break them up. They were as close to "infinitely tall" as anything can be that isn't made of light-- your eyes would follow them upward until you simply choose to stop looking, and it looked no different at whatever floor you stopped on from wherever you started. It just kept going and going. At some point you chose to crop the photo your mind took, and what registered in the deep, dark recesses of the mind was an image not unlike the Tribute in Light: all vertical lines, going up forever.

We have a corporate marketing graphic that shows a city skyline with one impossibly tall building in the middle-- it's (I believe) one of the WTC towers, Photoshopped to extend about six times as high as any of the other buildings in the picture. The top is ringed with our circular logo. It's a silly sort of picture, meaninful only in marketing-ese, only when part of a PowerPoint slideshow full of bleary bullet points. But it's an eerily haunting image now, because it evokes that same weird feeling: It's an ugly, featureless building, yes. But it achieves the reach of Babel. A world of cultural exchange, spiraling upward until the ground is lost to view, and continuing on until the clouds catch on it and erase its upper limit. Whether it's a cloud or a corporate logo, it puts the upper reaches of the edifice into the realm of the impossible-- and yet it was there. It was a monument to so much that the modern world meant. It was the embodiment of success. I can only hope that whatever goes in there in its stead can capture so much meaning and symbolism.

It even stretched higher than airplanes flew.

15:35 - A Little Family History

Steven den Beste celebrates the one-year anniversary of USS Clueless with a cool little summary of how the solar system works, how Earth and the Moon work, and how bizarre it is for life to have arisen here-- whatever you personally feel that means in terms of all those Big Questions™.

It also explains why the apocalyptic situation described in The Time Machine, as I just discussed, isn't feasible.

14:09 - I've seen the future, brother-- it is murder...

I saw The Time Machine last night.

When I came home, I was full of cynical things to say about it: Stupid, stupid movie. Very beautiful, but very stupid. So badly acted... so unimaginative... so devoid of social commentary in favor of sensationalism and effects, so "Rollerball remake". Hiker smirkingly asked me whether I wished I could go back in time to prevent myself from watching it; I said yes, but the fact that I'd be able to would preclude myself from ever acquiring the ability to travel in time, and--

But then the conversation turned elsewhere, I went to sleep, I woke up, I called AppleCare to ask about an obscure OS quirk that I'd noticed, I took my car to the dealer to get the brakes sprayed with a fresh coat of shellac-- and in the shuttle on the way to work, listening to Danny Elfman music on my iPod, I started thinking about the movie again.

And you know what? I actually really, really liked it.

And I'm not sure why. I mean, c'mon: it's an apocalyptic vision of the future, specifically the future of New York-- a future where scientific progress backfires on us, civilization collapses, and humanity goes not only into feral mode but into a state where some memory of our present technological advancement remains: enough so that the Morlocks have designed their state of being in a manner that's informed by knowing what came before.

It's a thoroughly depressing view of the future. And you know, I think that's exactly what I like about it.

See, I've been steeped in optimistic, idealized visions of the future: in Trek, humanity solves all its problems and turns happy and jolly and harmonious and builds ships to spread our message of peace-love-recycle all throughout the galaxy. Sci-fi and video games repeat this same theme, or a variation on it, right and left. Humanity is always advanced, noble, and embattled by hostile, bloodthirsty alien races. We may face challenges and threats, but the core of our human culture is always intact.

But strangely enough, it's movies where humanity gets razed to the ground and has to start anew where I'm feeling a certain amount of stirring of the heart lately. Titan A.E. is about humanity reduced to a scavenging few, struggling in the alleyways of spaceports for their very survival. A.I. shows a New York that gets submerged under flooding seas and then glaciers. Final Fantasy X quite unwittingly uncovers the root of where this all comes from, I think: it shows Manhattan under its protective dome, its buildings shattered, and the World Trade Center towers-- standing but gutted.

It's a world that can't exist now. No more WTC means no more Final Fantasy X. It's been erased from the bifurcation tree of our potential futures, and it's been firmly moved to the realm of fantasy.

The future of Final Fantasy X can't exist now. Not the way it was portrayed. All because that one detail is no longer valid. And just that one provable detail somehow makes thinking about the future just that much less depressing.

See, you can look at Star Trek and think, "Yeah, it's utopia." But what does that say about how the future will actually turn out? It's going to have to be worse than Trek. No transporters, no replicators, no dilithium. Whatever we do end up with cannot be any better than utopia-- it can only be worse. So what the hell's the point of striving?

But movies like A.I. and even shows like "Futurama", in which the New York skyline sits buried and crumbling underground, WTC towers and all-- well, they say the following to me: This potential future sucks, but it's fantasy. There are better things in store for humanity than this.

And so The Time Machine is the same kind of thing for me. Just as I can't believe that we're on the brink of having Earth destroyed by the Drej and humanity banished to the forgotten corners of history, I also can't believe that lunar demolitions operations will destroy the moon, knock it out of orbit, and cause earthly civilization to implode upon itself. I'm just not buying it. I can accept the down-to-earth, leisurely future of Bicentennial Man. I can accept the gritty industrial texture of Pitch Black or Dark City or Total Recall. I can accept the sterile utopia of Star Trek. I can even accept the premise of The Matrix-- hell, I can't disprove it, can I?

But these futures depress me. They all do. Because they all can happen, exactly as depicted. And they all represent the loss of some critical part of our humanity.

But then, the futures I can't accept... now, those I enjoy. Because I don't have to worry about them coming true.

12:26 - AirPort Happiness

So here I am, sitting in the lobby of the VW dealership, waiting for the shuttle van to drive me to work after dropping my car off for its 35K mile service. I sat down at a table, opened up my laptop, and lo! A wireless network.

It's really kinda exhilarating to see how this sort of thing is proliferating. While some articles in the tech press will moan about how the tech industry will remain stalled until we all have cheap broadband, small companies-- like car dealerships-- are installing AirPort networks right and left. No security, no worries-- just convenience for their customers.

Eek! The shuttle's here. Later...
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
20:21 - Not a bad point-- but still...

A reader of InstaPundit has an interesting (and seldom represented) perspective on automated traffic surveillance and tickets issued by cameras and computers.

Namely, he's actually glad it's going this way now-- it's much less embarrassing and invasive not to have to talk to a cop.

Okay, granted... it's a type of confrontation that we (or at least most of us) have to deal with so seldom that we just don't have any kind of comfort level when it does happen. It's far easier to just see that flash in our eyes and go "Aww, dammit!" and then move on, chastened. (After all, it's been documented that a large percentage of auto accidents occur very soon after the driver in question had just been in a heart-pounding near-miss, or had just been pulled over and released. It's very disconcerting. You're about as shaky as a kid at a piano-recital awards ceremony. You're not alert, your mind is spinning, replaying the incident over and over, the road ahead of you is the last thing on your mind. You're a fender-bender waiting to happen.) This new system will probably reduce accidents, free up police man-hours, save money, all that good stuff.

But still... slippery slope, people. Slippery slope. The 1984 scenario always starts out with the best of intentions.

14:03 - Preach it, brotha!

Now this is a talk I'd love to hear.

Computing Fallacies [or What is the World Coming To?] - Michi Henning


Fallacy 1 Computing is Easy
- Teach Yourself C++ in 14 Easy Lessons
- CORBA for Dummies
- Complete Idiot's Guide to Win32
- Java for Morons
- Windows 98 Unleashed

[now examining different areas - non books]
- Brain Surgery in 14 Easy Lessons
- Bridge Design for Dummies
- Complete Idiot's Guide to Contract Law
- Air Traffic Control for Morons
- Ballistic Missiles Unleashed

We are special in the IT industry in that we can find these fallacies. This
talk is an hour long bitching session for everything that has annoyed me in
the last 20 years.

Fallacy 2 Computers Allow People to Do things They Could Not Do Otherwise
- All you need is a good work processor to create a great doc
- All you need is a great spreadsheet to make accurate sales predictions
- All you need is ...

Fallacy 3 Computers Increase Productivity
- The sound effects in this presentation will make all the difference
- It only took five hours to format this memo
- The shading on this pie chart is simply superb
- The icons on my desktop are lined up perfectly
[sound of car screeching to a halt for each bullet point]

We still produce exactly the same amount of letters as in 1945. Back then it
was okay to have 3 or so typos per page without re-typing the entire letter.
Nowadays, we rewrite the letter many, many times, changing fonts, format
etc. We are no better off in terms of letters produced.

Fallacy 4 Programs Help Their Users
- What can we do that will force an upgrade?
- What can we do for the next release that might sell?
- How can we kill the competition?

Fallacy 5 If It's Graphical, It's Easy
- Single click, double click?
- Where is the #$%^@!! menu??
- Which part of the UI does *not* do something?
- With a GUI, anyone can be a
- System administrator
- Programmer
- Typesetter
- Accountant
- Statistician
- ...

Double clicking is politically incorrect in terms of RSI. We have to
re-learn to use single click or to type on ergonomic keyboards.

There are so many UI features that we only learn by accident eg. double
clicking the title bar, dettaching the toolbar.

Why is the minimize button beside the close button on the title bar? This is
equivalent to have the eject seat button right beside the light switch in an

Let me introduce you to a friend of mine. M$ paperclip. Eyes start to follow
Michi as he walks back and forth across the stage. [Histerical laughter].
It's in principle a really good idea, something that monitors your progress,
but when it starts to interrupt your work, by telling you a joke, it is
ethically wrong to release this to millions of people.

Fallacy 6 Computers are Getting Faster
- How long does it take for your PC to boot?
- How long does it take to
- start your word processor?
- load a web page?
- compile a program?
- how long did it take
- five years ago?
- ten years ago?

We have come along and destroyed all the gains we have made in hardware.

Fallacy 7 Programs are Getting Better
- How often do you need to
- animate your fonts?
- embed live information from the web in a document?
- perform a Fourier analysis?
- create a pie chart with alpha blending?
- create a pie chart?

99% of all documents are written to be printed on paper.

His wife was trying to save a 2.2MB for a 2 page Word document on a floppy
disk. Plain text, default font, left aligned. There was one email address,
underlined. After 17 minutes of searching, he found a way to turn off this
email address highlight off. The document was then saved at 800KB.

Fallacy 8 Programmers are Getting Better
- Average education time 2 years?
- How many students coming out of university know what a core dump is?
- Written an Excel macro? You are qualified!
- Average retention time in a job 18 months

Great programmers have a greater amount of short term memory slots. Most of
these people will have written some assembly at some stage in their lives.

Fallacy 9 Programming is About Date Structures and Algorithms
- How many times have you written a linked list?
- How many times have you used STL?
- How many books have you read about HCI?

We spend so much time designing our API's, but who taught us whether we
should return a boolean or an integer as an error? We are not taught to

Fallacy 10 Open Source is the Answer
- Economic model is doubtful
- Source code is useless
- Motivation for Open Source is inappropriate for most software
- Nerd culture is counter-productive

We write software for peer recognition. We write fancy structures because
'it's cool', but not particularly useful.

Fallacy 11 Standards all the Solution
- Usable standards are created only years after the fact
- Standards are foul compromises

Fallacy 12 We are Making Progress
- Progress in data structures and algorithms have been remarkably slow
- Progress in management techniques has been remarkably slow
- Progress in quality assurance has been remarkably slow

We put all the not so good programmers into quality assurance, when really
it is the hardest part.

Fallacy 13 The Industry Knows Where it is Goling
- Today's clever hack is tommorrow's solution to take us into the next
- There haven't b een any new ideas in a decade
- We have run out of ideas, so we rehash old ones

Oh My God! It's All So...Depressing!

So What Do We Need?
- 'Progress' is detrimental to progress
- Focus on design
- Realistic growth expectations
- Legislation
- Code of ethics
- Growing up!

The best UI people on the planet are those working in the car industry.

We need to make it a criminal law to change certain API's. There are
potentially huge impacts. When we produce a new drug, we can't just release
it to millions of people without some sort of testing.

We have to stop doing things just because they are fun. Nerds are not the
people to run this industry.

Useful Reading
- Donald Norman 'The Design of Everyday Things'
- Alan Cooper 'The Inmates are Running the Asylum'
- Alan Cooper 'About Face'

Monday, March 11, 2002
00:08 - Oh, how can I be so skeptical?

First read this article, a True Tale of Survival recounted at The 700 Club by someone whose faith in God was what saved him from certain death, not just from the WTC towers' debris crushing him as he rushed from the building, but from the plane itself crashing through the window where he worked.

One spin on the article is by Sgt. Stryker, who takes exception (and quite rightly, I think) to the guy's selfishness in worldview that lets him think that all those good and miraculous things that happened on September 11th were because of the Power of Prayer, specifically his prayer, saving him from death while all those other people in the towers (all of whom, apparently, weren't praying enough) died.

That in itself's a pretty good read. But when I read the original interview on CBN.com, the only thing that went through my mind, and perhaps it's just me being callous and faithless and cynical, was "How likely can it possibly be that this is true?" And the second was "If it isn't, who's going to try to prove that?"
Gorman: He made it through the crash, but the wing of the plane was blocking his only means of escape.

Stanley: This plane was at an angle and the wing hung in my office door 20 feet away.

I cried, I prayed, and the entire ceiling came down. The furniture was mangled. The tables, the computers, the walls, the ceiling -- everything came down.

And I prayed, saying, "Lord, send somebody, anybody." And out of this smoke I saw the light. It was a flashlight somebody had.

I said, "Lord, just this one time more. If you give me the strength, I'll be able to do it."

I stood up, and I felt so powerful that I could have done anything. When Samson got up and shook off his enemies, that's how I felt. And I said, "This wall is no match for me."

I started clawing my way, climbing, climbing, punching, hitting until the man on the other side saw my hand and my head. And he said, "I can see your hand." I said, "As soon as you can see my head and hand, you just grab and yank me through."

Brian Clark, afterwards I got to know his name, he grabbed my hand and my head and he pulled with all his strength, and I squirmed my way through to this opening.

Gorman: Stanley and Brian miraculously made it down to the lobby, but the entire concourse was engulfed in flames.

Now... I'm not claiming to know the truth of the details of what happened on the 81st floor of Tower 2. I wasn't there. But I have seen the video of the crashes a number of times, and I do seem to remember something about a huge fireball that immediately erupted out the sides of the buildings where each plane hit. The violence with which the plane hit the building, pulverizing all parts of it almost instantly, and the force with which its fuel tanks exploded, would have resulted in the three or four floors above and below the plane being reduced to a gas plasma within seconds, if I have a reasonable grasp of the physics involved. The wing was hanging in the office door and blocking his way out? Er... unless he was miraculously protected from the heat and flame pouring from a torched 767 fuselage so that all he saw between him and the wing was mangled furniture and ceiling tiles and computers falling down, and not a white-hot wall of liquefied metal and building material and jet fuel, I must admit to being a tad skeptical. Damn me and my callousness and squalid pragmatism, but something about it just doesn't stroke my nerve endings with the soothing exhortations of Inspiring Obvious Truth.

It may very well be true, and in that case I'm completely without adequate words to describe how impressed I am. But now that the emotions of the moment have had six months to amortize out, I don't think it represents harshest sterile humanism for me to react with a perked eyebrow rather than a gaping mouth.

Especially if we're only just now hearing about it, and on The 700 Club rather than on any major news organs' human-interest stories.

22:45 - Towers of Light


Ah yes.... I was sort of looking forward to this, ever since they proposed it. It sounded like one of those really tasteful kinds of memorials.

Evidently the beams can be seen from 25 miles away. I wonder how that compares to the searchlight on the Luxor in Las Vegas? I know I can see the shaft of light from at least ten miles out of the city when driving up I-15 at night.

(Odd thought: No, "Luxor" is not some weird hacker-speak for "luck"... though if they were trying to design a casino for hackers, it would be the perfect name.)

21:10 - Some worthwhile reading on 9/11+6m...

Adil of MuslimPundit takes the opportunity to summarize the thoughts of numerous sane Muslim commentators from over the past several months; the column is a fairly chewy one to get through, but if you're anything like me, you'll want to stick with it to wring out every last little morsel. Good stuff. Very insightful.

13:44 - Oh, and one more cool spam title...

This one I just couldn't help giggling at, and for reasons that the spammer would never have been able to predict. It's an insurance thing, and it leads off with:
Subject: Are you and your family protected?

Yes, we are protected. We have gone down the stairs.

12:11 - Speaking of semantics...

From the BBC Online article "The Future of Computing is Flat":

Several companies such as IBM and Compaq have been offering integrated flat panel computers with offerings like the NetVista and iPaq.

Apple Computer, with the introduction of their latest iMac, has gone one step further, and committed itself to producing a line-up of flat panel computers.

Guardians of the Mother Tongue, my eye. If I ever write anything like this, even if I am up at 5:00 AM and barely conscious, I will have to have my blogging license revoked. Forcibly.

12:07 - Security Updates Redux

Matt Robinson gives me an update on the "Microsoft Security Update" trojan-spam I talked about yesterday:

Ahh, a semantic attack! Cute. Microsoft "hotfixes" -do- follow the filename convention used above. Q216309 is the ID of a support centre article. Microsoft do issue security bulletins to interested parties by email (though they use PGP signatures... as if anyone'd check those!) It's a very convincing semantic attack, in fact. It's probably a trojan horse attack rather than a virus. Funny thing is, I can see a lot of Microsoft employees falling for this one ;)

That's a good point to bring up, actually: PGP signatures. The spammer/attacker should have included one. Who cares if it's not legit? Who would go to the trouble of decoding the signature and matching it against the source? Just having a PGP signature would be proof enough for most people of the update's authenticity. Why would they include one if it was faked, goes the logic? After all, they know they'd be caught if anybody thought to check it!

Yuh-huh. If.

I don't check the MD5 sums on software packages under UNIX as often as I should, or their PGP signatures. Just the fact that they're there is good enough for me. The ports system in FreeBSD automates the checking of the MD5 sums, but I've been conditioned for so long by a lack of problems with the ports I've installed that when I do see an MD5 checksum failure, I write it off as a bad MD5 checksum or a bug in the checking process. Which it usually is, but you can just imagine the risks involved.

That's what smart attackers will do: they'll dress up their trojans with the most official-sounding and official-looking stuff imaginable, and nobody will question it. It's like dressing up an assassin in a military uniform from a costume shop: it's all fake, but nobody will realize it unless they look really close-- and who's willing to look really close? It might be for real!
Sunday, March 10, 2002
00:18 - Oh, this one's priceless...

<sings like the Squirrel Nut Zippers> There's a spam goin' round in town, spreading lies...

This one's really quite fun, and well-constructed in that way that fools people into thinking it's legit. What's so funny is the places where it's so clearly fake, places that are really quite obvious-- where even newbies should be made suspicious.

From: "Microsoft Corporation Security Center" <rdquest12@microsoft.com>
Date: Sun Mar 10, 2002 09:32:10 PM US/Pacific
To: "Microsoft Customer" <'customer@yourdomain.com'>
Subject: Internet Security Update
Reply-To: <rdquest12@microsoft.com>

"customer@yourdomain.com", huh? And what sounds legit about "rdquest12@microsoft.com"? Ah well, I'm not prepared to guess.

Microsoft Customer,

What'd you call me?

this is the latest version of security update, the known security vulnerabilities affecting Internet Explorer and MS Outlook/Express as well as six new vulnerabilities, and is discussed in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS02-005. Install now to protect your computer from these vulnerabilities, the most serious of which could allow an attacker to run code on your computer.

Description of several well-know vulnerabilities:

- "Incorrect MIME Header Can Cause IE to Execute E-mail Attachment" vulnerability. If a malicious user sends an affected HTML e-mail or hosts an affected e-mail on a Web site, and a user opens the e-mail or visits the Web site, Internet Explorer automatically runs the executable on the user's computer.

- A vulnerability that could allow an unauthorized user to learn the location of cached content on your computer. This could enable the unauthorized user to launch compiled HTML Help (.chm) files that contain shortcuts to executables, thereby enabling the unauthorized user to run the executables on your computer.

- A new variant of the "Frame Domain Verification" vulnerability could enable a malicious Web site operator to open two browser windows, one in the Web site's domain and the other on your local file system, and to pass information from your computer to the Web site.

- CLSID extension vulnerability. Attachments which end with a CLSID file extension do not show the actual full extension of the file when saved and viewed with Windows Explorer. This allows dangerous file types to look as though they are simple, harmless files - such as JPG or WAV files - that do not need to be blocked.

Wow. Well-researched, citing security bulletins and documented exploits, and warning against viruses and trojans. This has gotta be legit! They're trying to fight viruses! See-- it says right here!

You know how many people's cars get broken into every year by employees of car dealerships and aftermarket parts shops who the cars' owners paid to install security systems? The tech would just install the alarm or locking stuff, and keep a copy of the key for himself?

Nah, most people don't know, most likely. Which is why this virus will infect lots of people.

System requirements:
Versions of Windows no earlier than Windows 95.

This update applies to:
Versions of Internet Explorer no earlier than 4.01
Versions of MS Outlook no earlier than 8.00
Versions of MS Outlook Express no earlier than 4.01

How to install
Run attached file q216309.exe

Okay, this is what gets me. If you're trying to pass yourself off as Microsoft, even in an e-mail (a completely ludicrous medium for dispensing security updates, for many reasons beyond the implicit assumption that everybody in the world that receives the e-mail is a Microsoft customer), why would you name your attachment "q216309.exe"? Why not, oh, I don't know, "Microsoft Security Update 03-10-02.exe"?

How to use
You don't need to do anything after installing this item.

Yeah, I'll bet.

For more information about these issues, read Microsoft Security Bulletin MS02-005, or visit link below.
If you have some questions about this article contact us at rdquest12@microsoft.com

Thank you for using Microsoft products.

Yuh-huh. More citings of published security bulletins (whether real or not-- I don't know; it'd be good enough for me if I were in the sights of this virus for real), and even a link to the real live security-update site for IE. How convenient and helpful.

With friendly greetings,
MS Internet Security Center.

Ah-hah! "With friendly greetings". You know what that says? East Asia. From my experience, this is the kind of salutation you put on a letter there, but you'd never see a native English speaker end a letter like this. Especially not a Microsoft customer service agent.

Microsoft is registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
Windows and Outlook are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

For that ultra-convincing flourish.

Now, this is just what you get when picking apart the body of the message itself. The headers, as should surprise nobody, reveal that the message comes through "molly.intercom.net" and "pfuckie (a129.intercom.net [])". But who looks at headers?

I haven't been able to find the ID for the virus (I'm assuming it's a virus, and I'd be very very surprised if it weren't) at mcafee.com, largely because they seem to have made it difficult beyond imagination to browse recent virus alerts; yeah, real responsible, guys. But I'd wager that this little beauty's going to be fooling all kinds of people as it makes its rounds.

It's not anywhere near as beautifully crafted as the "I send you this file to have your advice" thing (which I still get about 20 copies of per week), or Nimda, but it's quite a piece of work nonetheless.

On the extremely unlikely chance that you read this blog entry before you open your e-mail with this in it, be-thee-ware.

23:40 - God Bless the Red Cross (Quiet, you fool!)

Lileks comments on the Red Cross turning away kids who had come to sing "God Bless the USA" and "America the Beautiful":

These things would not have happened in WW2 - again, you can ponder the matter and figure out why, but the fact is that no one would have thought to make this complaint. The nation was at war; the idea that singing a patriotic medley that contained “God” and “Prayer” would be divisive and offensive and cannot be allowed at a RED CROSS MEETING would have struck most people as absolute lunacy. I know there are people who think that the Red Cross decision is a good thing, that we're better off because the kids didn't sing “God Bless the USA,” but all I can do is plead ignorance because the reason escapes me completely.

I can, however, find another charity.

Yeah. If I'd been among the carolers, I'd have said, "Yeah, you know what? I find the term 'Red Cross' to be offensive and divisive. I demand that you change your name, or set up your so-called 'charity' elsewhere."

Not that I'm not already a bit torqued off at the Red Cross anyway. I gave them $400 sometime late in September, and shortly afterwards it came to light that that money had likely gone towards those administrative cost paydowns or office refurnishings or whatever that scandal of misappropriations was about. Like many other Americans during those times, I was going through a belt-tightening period when it came to finances, and I was none too pleased to find out that Disney had lied to me about him who donates his last farthing to help the poor getting rewarded by the poor turning into beautiful genies who baked a whole inventory full of shoes for him to sell the next day. But then they lied to us all about lemmings too, and it wasn't until the 90s when we learned the truth about the little rodents (which was that they marched around in blue smocks building bridges and exploding on command).

Bah, humbug. I am soooo disillusioned.

19:42 - I've come to a crazy house!

According to Starz! Movie News, Sean Astin-- recently seen as Sam in LotR, previously known as one of the kids in Goonies-- is going to be in a Goonies II movie. Apparently the revelation was something of a startling surprise to him... but hey, he said, he's game.

I don't know what else to say about that. Except that it would have to be more fun than that horrible NES game...

18:25 - Another lazy Sunday...

This is the first weekend in a while when I've been able to just sit and do nothing. So that's exactly what I'm doing.

Of course, even when there's nothing at all to do on a weekend like this, I still find it really difficult to just lie around and accomplish nothing. So while I've ostensibly never really left my room since Friday night, I've taken in about eight movies on cable, dug through a mountain of paper detritus that had piled up in my room, caught up all my backed-up e-mail, gone through the past four weeks' worth of newsgroups, fixed two or three long-standing and niggling bugs in the server code, and started dabbling in animation. It's that first big step-- drawing the first few sequential frames-- that's the big barrier; beyond that, it all seems much easier. A shallow learning curve that begins at 10,000 feet.

And yet it's now getting towards the end of the afternoon on Sunday, and it's gorgeous outside-- a sure-fire recipe for me to feel like I've just lost a precious weekend, never to be recovered, so much time not taken advantage of. I don't know what I'd hoped to do rather than sit inside and get caught up on stuff, but it feels so tangible that I can't even consider ignoring it.

Since the rest of the household has gone onto the Atkins Diet (all the red meat and grease you want, just no carbohydrates-- and bloody hell, it works), I'm having to adjust my eating habits to match. It feels weird being the odd man out who can eat potatoes or rice or pasta or bread, and so I always end up with far too much food-- the Meat Diet portion plus the carbos. It sounds good, I know, but if you want to come help out I'll be happy to get two or three volunteers.

Ah well. My hands are healing nicely, and so I think we'll all be ready for another ski excursion next weekend. It's just finished snowing up at Sierra-at-Tahoe, the conditions are great right now, and there's word of more snow coming this week-- so the conditions this time should be everything that this past trip wasn't: Powdery, fresh, cold, exhilarating. The way it was a couple of winters ago when I went up solo. That weekend in Carson City was one of those adventures I'll always enjoy remembering. Seeing a movie in a strange town (American Beauty, it was), getting asked for a light by kids outside the theater-- ahh, Nevada. Eating at Round Table at the edge of town, reaffirming just how good Round Table pizza tastes after a day on the slopes. Reading Spellsinger over my pizza, getting so furious with the ineptitude and outlandishness of the writing that I very nearly hurled the book across the room into some kid's birthday party. Putting chains on for $20 at the base of Highway 50's incline up into the Tahoe area. Driving through South Lake Tahoe during a white-out, where even the mountains behind the town were invisible. Getting stopped in traffic (the turn-off-your-engine kind of stop) while they cleared a spinout, and getting in a snowball fight with the cars in front of me and behind me, using the big piles of snow on the tops of our cars as ammo.

Yes, that weekend I didn't feel as though I'd wasted it on something frivolous. Because it resulted in memories; and while this weekend did involve some pretty fair accomplishments, I won't remember a thing about it a month from now.
Saturday, March 9, 2002
17:55 - Now that is a tasty burger...


Pulp Phantom: The Fiction Menace.

Sweet Lord, there are 18 episodes of this stuff.

04:07 - All going according to plan-- for everybody


This is the image that keeps coming to mind whenever I read more news about Operation Anaconda: from the way it's sounding, just about the most clean-cut, methodical battle I've ever heard described. It certainly helps that the goals of the two sides seem to be so similar.

Put 1000 Americans and 1000 al Qaeda in a mountain battleground, close the lid, and shake vigorously. What do you get? Well, after about three days, the score seems to be about 700 al Qaeda killed to 8 Americans. But the best part is how they seem to be surrounded, having regrouped to a meaningful central location, and are now doing their damnedest to stay that way. More and more fighters have been arriving from elsewhere in Afghanistan in small groups, magnetized to the battle scene, only to be mown down by the coalition forces that are ringing the area and filling it with fire on a constant basis.

We're being all patient and careful, and they're well-trained fighters, and we're maintaining the utmost respect for the situation, say the American commanders. But seriously, is this all a joke? Or is it exactly what both sides expected all along? It seems to me that al Qaeda is playing along exactly as though they had hoped all along for a pitched battle that they knew they'd lose: it's genuinely their goal to die in a futile war. That's what jihad is all about, at least in the popular fundamentalist context: it's better to find a completely unwinnable cause that can be justified through your belief system and die while fighting it, than to live a life that isn't true to those convictions. As I've heard restated a number of different ways since the war began, "Their greatest ambition is to die, and we're more than happy to accommodate them."

Meanwhile, as Steven den Beste writes, we're proceeding on the assumption that the ideal outcome of all this is for everybody inside the circle of coalition troops to end up dead. And if the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the region are determined to coalesce into a central location so we can take them all out one by one, well, that's mighty neighborly of y'all; you didn't have to go'n do that, y'know, but it sure does save us a heap of effort.

Seriously-- am I the only one who sees this as though the enemy is just play-acting out a script they'd all memorized? The scene is set: Islam is failing to gain respect and acceptance in a world controlled by America and Israel and the Western powers. Beating these powers at their own game is beyond the reach of the Islamic nations, so just twist the rules a little bit, and the victory condition becomes martyrdom on a cultural scale. So what do we do? Well, let's bring down the military wrath of the American superpower upon us! Here's how we do it: Set up an impossibly brutal dictatorial government to carry the banner of "We Are Islam!", dynamiting ancient Buddha sculptures and oppressing women and doing everything possible to make America look at us like a cat looks at a bratty two-year-old; then, after a few years of letting this situation fester, send out some suicide bombers to fly planes into the Americans' buildings. Then they'll strike out at the big visible government, and the effort will lead them right to us-- and we'll be right there waiting for them, gathered conveniently up in Shahi-kot, ready to die one by one fighting a battle we know we can't win, or even fight properly. Surrender is the last thing anyone will want to do. Once the rockets start zeroing in, the martyrdoms will begin, and they'll keep on going until every last fighter is dead. As long as we keep the Americans engaged, drawing their attention, making them mad, making sure they kill us all, we'll be assured Paradise. Right?

I know, I know, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But frankly, this battle just doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the first place. For me, this is as good an explanation as any.
Thursday, March 7, 2002
22:46 - Hee hee hee!

Lance and Zjonni and I were standing in the kitchen; they were combining the ingredients for a cheesecake, and we were all discussing the incidents of the day. At a fairly random lull in the conversation, I looked over at the edge of the counter, where a lone brown egg was sitting.

"Why is that egg sitting there?" I asked, quite innocently. As opposed, of course, to being in the refrigerator.

"Because if it were floating in midair, we'd be in space!" "Because its molecular density is higher than that of the countertop!"

Yeah, yeah. "So why is that egg sitting there?"

"Because it's hard-boiled," Lance finally gets serious enough to tell me.

Now, it's a surprise to me that eggs are okay to sit out if they're hard-boiled. But no, they both assure me that they can last several days-- that even raw eggs don't need to be refrigerated until a couple of days have gone by.

"Are you sure it's hard-boiled, then?"

In answer, Lance picks it up, brings it over to me, and cracks it on my forehead.

Amid the guffawing that follows, and the disbelief that I would actually let him do that when there's some doubt as to the physical state of the egg's albumen, I sheepishly admit that Lance is seldom wrong about these kinds of things. He roars with laughter while peeling the egg. "Woo-hoo! Carte blanche! Carte blanche! I wonder how I should spend this one..."

We continue talking about the merits of eggs, including Zjonni's samizdat about how you go about culturing bioweapons (inject a needletip full of bacteria or virus culture into one end of an egg, put it down very very very carefully, step through the sealed doors, wash yourself off with about fifty gallons of bleach, get out of your Level 4 hazmat suit...). And just as he mentions hazardous materials, Lance goes urp.

"Shouu'a 'eem rrfrig'rated", he says, pointing at his cheeks. He then begins to expectorate the remainder of the egg into the garbage, gagging, washing his mouth out with San Jose city water, shrieking about how foul that was.

"I was gonna say," mentions Zjonni. "I did seem to remember that egg being there last Saturday."

So while we cannot help but giggle helplessly at the writhings of the unhappy Lance, I finally note that the carte blanche has been very short-lived. The karma that fell to my account when he cracked it open on my forehead paid itself off in full, in very quick order. What bounces off my head, after all, comes around.


Is this for real?

18:10 - Poisoning the Mouse's Cheese

I'm impressed with Foxnews.com lately-- they've been running columns by bloggers, like Ken Layne, Tim Blair, and now Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit. This time around, it's his diatribe on the unholy Hollings Axis-- the alliance between the record labels, Microsoft, Disney, CBS, and AOL/Time-Warner, among others. The group whose stated purpose is (through efforts like the SSSCA) to make it illegal-- not just illegal, but a felony-- to have on your computer any software which performs such court-assuredly legal functions as copying music CDs onto your computer, into your MP3 player, or onto a CD-R.

And the money seems to be the explanation here. A Wired article on the hearings noted that in the 2000 election cycle, the entertainment industry gave Democrats a whopping $24.2 million in contributions compared to $13.3 million to Republicans.

So championing the cause of the little guy only counts until the bidding gets high enough.

This partiality is a betrayal of principle. As such, it represents a real political opportunity for the Republicans. Democrats do like to portray themselves as the friends of the little guy and the protectors of ordinary Americans against greedy big business — as demonstrated by their posturing over the Enron collapse. But as Ken Layne pointed out last week, the entertainment industries make Enron’s management look like Boy Scouts.

"Keep your grubby laws off my computer" sounds like a pretty good slogan, and it’s one that Republicans could use against Democrats nationwide. A few smart Democrats, like Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, realize this. As Boucher puts it, these companies are "seeking to use their copyright not just to obtain fair compensation but in effect to exercise complete dominance and total control of the copyrighted work...I have told the heads of the major labels I think this is a major mistake that will engender a major public backlash." Unfortunately, Boucher seems to be a voice in the wilderness within the Democratic Party, which has forged a symbiotic relationship with the entertainment industries over the past few decades.

I've been a registered Democrat ever since I reached voting age; it seemed the sensible thing to do at the time, because my parents are Democrats and Clinton was in office at the time-- I liked the idea of a fun President, and fun he certainly was. Besides, to be what appeared to be the only real alternative-- a Republican-- was in many ways directly antithetical to my feelings as well. But now that I've been among many friends whose political leanings put them into neither big party (lots of Libertarians in the lot), and in light of situations like this, and because the California primary election this week saw me spending half an hour in the morning before work and another half hour in the evening afterwards trying to find the mythical "Dove Hill School" polling place (there is simply no such school at the intersection listed on my Democratic sample ballot), I'm just about ready to do my miniscule part to express my dissatisfaction with the way things are going and reconsider my affiliation.

I mean, what the hell? Democrats siding with Big Business against the rights of the consumer? Isn't that anathema to the party's premise? Or is it that they see entertainment as a form of government utility, that they must regulate and meter like water and electricity and roll out the tanks to prevent rogue civilians from "bombing the pipelines" through their P2P file-sharing and digital-lifestyle technology? What exactly is their rationale here?

In trying to get a grasp on the issues involved here, one naturally has a tendency to look for precedent, to find a context in which to cast the problem so we can be taught what to do by the actions of our predecessors. What is entertainment? What is music? Well, it's art. How does the public get access to art? Traditionally, by whatever means is most expedient, that does not allow for large-volume recopying. A person can own a book, and he can quote and excerpt it at will-- making copies is not really possible, but if he does large-volume republication, law prevents him. But there's nothing in the law to say that low-volume copying is prohibited: in fact, the law has upheld that such copying is essential for the survival of the value of what the consumer bought. See, what we have here in art is data-- not a physical object, like a book, so much as the text contained within it. The value in a book is not the pages or the cover, it's the words and ideas inside. If a person buys the right to have those words and ideas for himself, he has to be able to protect against their loss-- the vehicle that contains them (the book) can get burned or damaged, and if he hasn't made some form of backup copy, the ideas are lost. Why should the survival of thoughts be dependent upon the vulnerability of some arbitrary physical object that carries those thoughts?

And so the courts decided that it's legal to copy CDs onto tapes for the car, or to copy TV shows onto videotape, so the consumer who has the rights to those thoughts and artistic ideas can protect against their loss and can enjoy them at his convenience.

So what's so different about the digital age that's got Hollings and Eisner so worked up? Well, somewhere along the line they've got themselves into the misguided notion that low-volume copying (ripping a CD track into iTunes) is the same thing as high-volume copying (broadcasting a song file to be downloaded a million times via Napster); in other words, they're convinced, like they were in the 70s, that the ability to copy a record onto a tape would mean the downfall of the record industry's business model, that it would be tantamount to someone making millions of copies of the record free for the taking.

Look, piracy is a problem. I've said it before and I hold to that position. Software piracy needs to stop, but it won't. Music piracy is unethical, but it'll remain an issue as long as the technology is this far ahead of the mechanisms of distribution. But they do involve gray areas. Large-volume copying is the equivalent of setting up a printing press to run off your own cheap copies of someone else's book. That's problematic. But small-volume copying is the equivalent of making mix tapes from your legally owned CDs, and that's not a problem, even if the labels suddenly think it is, and even if the law is currently worded so as to support the labels' position. (And as someone-- den Beste, I think-- said, if millions of people break a law, it's the law that becomes suspect, not the people.)

So the only question that I think anyone should have, quite apart from how to punish people or prevent them from making copies in large OR small volume, is whether it's possible for large- and small-volume copying to converge. Is there a middle ground? Does the metaphor extend far enough for there to be a danger of "where-do-we-draw-the-line"-ism?

I don't think it does. As soon as you choose to use technology that enables large-volume copying, you've stepped onto a slippery and very steep slope, and the technology won't stop halfway. There is no such thing as a P2P app that is designed only to share files among a small subscribed group of friends, or something-- and even if there were, it would be quickly hacked and extended to become a large-volume duplication mechanism. Small-volume mechanisms are the way they are because of fundamental limitations. One person isn't going to have a million iPods to fill up with ripped MP3s for his friends. One copy of iTunes can't be made to broadcast its MP3 library all over the world. One person can't create loads of duplicated CDs in any kind of volume, with anywhere near the cost-effectiveness to make it remotely interesting to him. These low-volume duplication mechanisms are simply nothing that Hollings or Disney or Time-Warner need worry about. They never have been, and they never will be. If a low-volume mechanism attains the ability to be a high-volume one, it immediately enters the other category.

These two forms of copying will need to be dealt with in completely different ways, but Hollings isn't likely to want to swallow that. His Axis will continue to push his agenda, and it will probably win-- at least in the short term. But information does want to be free, and ideas will not be placed behind pay-for-play gates. The only result, as Boucher realizes, is that the consumers will cease to have any sympathy for the labels' rights, everybody will run illegal software in such volume as cannot be fought by the MP3 Police, and pretty much every piece of music anybody listens to will be gray-market at best. In short, we'll become China.

Or, of course, there's the ever-so-slight possibility that the courts will see the future and will rule that personal digital devices from iPods to cameras to phones are there to uphold the same rights to possession of ideas that the very first laws covering books and the recent cases covering CDs and tapes were designed to protect; that while high-volume broadcasting of copyrighted material is worthy of legal attention, the right of a person to enjoy art at his leisure, on his own terms, in his own formats, shall not be infringed.

13:20 - Fox couldn't write something like this...

Here's an incident that takes "hit-and-run" to an entirely new level:

By Mallard's account, as told to police, she had been drinking and using Ecstasy that October night and was driving home when she struck a man. The impact hurled him headfirst through the windshield, his broken legs protruding onto the hood.

She panicked, she said, and with the man lodged in the windshield, she drove a few miles to her home. There, she parked her 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier in the garage and lowered the door.

Biggs pleaded for help, she told police.

He got none. Not then, or for the next two or three days, as he remained lodged in the windshield, bleeding and slowly going into shock, police said.

Mallard told police she periodically went into the garage to check on the man. She said she apologized profusely to him for what she had done but ignored his cries for help.

When the man died, several of the woman's acquaintances helped remove his body, putting it into the trunk of another car and driving to Cobb Park, where they dumped it, police quoted the woman as saying. Two men found the body Oct. 27.

Isn't it weird how some people with completely defective brains can have that little fact go undetected for years and years, until they're out of school, working, possibly married, and acting as contributing members of society? And then something comes along out of the blue, their minds snap, and things like this happen?
Wednesday, March 6, 2002
01:30 - Visual Evidence

The still photos from the ski trip are up. Most of them were actually taken by Kris and Chris, so I'm not in any of them (I was busy pounding my butt and knees into pain-flavored jelly the first day); but I did take the scenery ones, shot from one of the turnouts on US50 just after it crests the summit of that last long sloping ridge and turns to wind its way down the sheer cliff that forms the western face of the canyon south of Lake Tahoe.

The second day I spent videotaping; the iMovie is finished, and it's 60MB; I'll give a copy to anyone who asks for it, but only if they're willing to wait however long it'll take to download it. I won't put a direct link here (I do want to keep some bandwidth for myself), but mail me if you want a copy.

I'm pretty proud of it. Whee! My directorial Dee-butt!

10:28 - When a Cartoonist Takes Leave of his Faculties

Decreasingly popular syndicated political cartoonist Ted Rall, who has been scoring more and more points on the idiot-o-meter with the bloggers and mainstream journalists since the war began, may well have finally killed his career with this stunning honker, which ran in the NY Times and elsewhere before being quickly pulled:

What could have possessed-- no, I'm not even going to try to imagine.
Tuesday, March 5, 2002
03:15 - The Topic That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It's been called "The New York Nuke Scare" in hushed whispers all over Blogsphere in the past couple of days, but the oddest thing is how few people have had anything to say about it, or even linked to any story describing the situation. USS Clueless had nothing to say. InstaPundit was going to remain silent, but today linked to Lileks, who in yesterday's Bleat nodded grimly at the nightmare scenario in a poetic and speculative postscript; it wasn't until I went out specifically searching for details that I found out what exactly he'd meant by "It's been October every day since October. And it's going to be October for some time, right up until the day it's September again."

Reading this stuff puts me back into that state of mind I was in in the late weeks of September-- watching the profiles of airplanes coming in for landings at San Jose International, seeing whether they had that telltale outline with wings askew, signifying a frantic but determined bank-turn; helplessly reloading the news sites to see whether suddenly anything had happened to turn cnn.com into an ad-less, link-less, layout-less list of hastily typed facts-of-the-moment; keeping an uneasy eye on the sky out the window, half expecting the low clouds to suddenly go red with flashing, diffused light reflected from some out-of-frame explosion, the sound of which might not even reach me before the shock wave does.

But at least that's tempered by the rational human mind, the one that says that the time when this was hot was mid-October, not today. Five months ago. Back when companies were still taking out full-page ads to express their condolences. Back when the freeway overpasses were completely covered with homemade banners commemorating the dead and exhorting the nation to gather strength. Back when the ruins were still smoking.

The news of the scare was released this weekend because to release it any earlier would have been stupid. You don't go blabbing in internationally-acclaimed newsmagazines the extent of our intelligence on potential threats and our ability (or inability) to counter them. The very fact that the Ridge office has seen fit to release this information should be reassuring-- it means that they consider the threat to be so stale and discredited by now as to be a non-issue. Sure, it goes without saying that we're going to be more uneasy now knowing these things than we were a week ago before knowing them, but imagine how New York's streets might have looked if this story had been leaked on October 10.

02:53 - Damn, that mouse's face has never looked more sinister...

Okay, so what's with this sudden onslaught of ads for Disney-themed cereal?

I just saw a fully-animated TV spot for "Pooh Hunny Bs", which follows right on the heels of another such ad for "Mickey Magix"-- two new entries into a mature cereal market by a new Disney/Kellogg's partnership whose purpose seems, rather oddly, to be to resurrect the aging but historically revered Disney icons in an age where Simba and Buzz Lightyear are better recognized by kids than Mickey and Donald.

Why this sudden focus on the classics? Could it possibly have something to do with how the Supreme Court is revisiting its decision on extending copyrights-- with the potential result that Mickey Mouse, 75 years after his creation, might end up in the public domain after all? And so Disney's suddenly barraging the public with ads for theme parks starring a modern-voiced Mickey pitched as "every kid's favorite Disney character", reality indicating the contrary be damned? So they can prove themselves to be vigorously defending the property when it comes up in whatever toothless court might be afflicted with the inevitable challenge case?

I'm sorry, but it may just be time to move on. Mickey and Donald and Goofy come from a time when Disney's animated shorts were the equivalent of network sitcoms-- standard fare, the stuff that's just "there", consistent and reliable but seldom remarkable. The WB shorts were always spikier, more sarcastic, more biting, more daring. And while WB's zany style (initially established rather heavy-handedly by giving every character a name that was a synonym for "Crazy") lent itself to success in the 90s with its entries into the Cartoon Renaissance-- Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, Batman, Superman, and the current Cartoon Network bonanza-- Disney's contributions to the same cause had a lot of the same "corporate" feel, a refusal to take risks, a copycattish attitude-- a Microsoftian approach, one might almost say. And now, seeing that there's little hope of hitting another out-of-the-blue jackpot like The Lion King anytime soon, they're grinding down their brake pads on their recent (rather brave) experimental features and concentrating on releasing "instant sequels" for the classics (Cinderella II? Peter Pan II? Hunchback II?!) and pushing their good ol' cash cows that they trot out every 20 years or so-- Mickey, Donald, Pooh, and the rest. Buzz Lightyear is supposed to be joining the cereal lineup with his own branded entry, which comes as a surprise to me considering Disney's attitude lately toward Pixar and its owner.

Yeah, I dunno. I'm rather peeved at Disney right now-- well, particularly at Eisner, for being so deeply in the pockets of Fritz Hollings, The Man Who Would Control Your Hard Drive.

...What? You mean you hadn't heard of that? Well, then, read this frightening state of affairs. Disney and the rest of the entertainment fat-cats are sponsoring Hollings' lobby to enact laws which would make it illegal to even have on your computer any software that isn't protected against piracy by some government-mandated security system. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is right in there with Hollings.

On the other side of the fight, though, is Steve Jobs; his position is that "If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own"... a position that the Industry detests, because look how much power and convenience it gives to the end user! Why, under this model, it'd be impossible to sell entertainment on a pay-per-use basis, which Disney and Time-Warner and CBS all would just love. And which Microsoft is all too happy to help enable.

Jobs is registering these sound bites (something he does very seldom) at a time when it's clear that if no major players in the tech industry take a stand, we'll have copy-protected CDs and pay-per-use software every which way we turn; as I've already mentioned, Eisner is blasting Apple's "Rip. Mix. Burn." ad campaign as being tantamount to condoning piracy (reality and common sense notwithstanding). The two sides are shaking out pretty clearly, if you ask me, and Apple's planting its feet and getting ready to duke it out in favor of the users' rights, while Microsoft and Disney link arms and prepare to trample all over Apple and the users at once.

You know what? Apple can't stand alone, not against the behemoths who are facing them down. The users are going to need to show some backbone and willingness to fight too, or else very soon it'll be too late.

And if we fail, the grinning face of Mickey will never be a benign and friendly visage in my mind ever again.

13:54 - Somebody set up us the Google Bomb.

Ever wonder what these "Google Bombs" might be that everyone keeps talking about on other, more perspicacious blogs? Well, this link has an outstanding article describing the phenomenon, how it works, what kinds of results it's had, and some real-world examples of how it's been put into practice.

Certainly makes me feel like a piker, naturally.
Monday, March 4, 2002
17:05 - Weird Al: Prey of the iPod

On the way up to the slopes, we listened to my entire Peter Gabriel collection through a Radio Shack tape adapter connected to my iPod; the sound quality was actually quite good, especially compared to my past experiences with tape adapters. And on the way home, we listened to all my Weird Al Yankovic albums, from UHF through Running With Scissors-- the only glitch in the setup being that the tape deck would inexplicably change direction every time it detected more than about two seconds of silence between songs (which, on some albums, means that it goes clack-clack between every two tracks).

But there's another, more subtle downside. With all of an artist's albums available to play in a long, unbroken playlist, the artist's whole oeuvre is laid bare for the eye to scour: not just the good stuff, but the bad stuff as well. I never bothered to take out the "dud" songs from my Weird Al playlist-- it just plays those four or five albums one after another-- and the result is like a concert that's run by a record-label marketdroid, where the dud songs are given equal billing with the headliners.

I don't have any of the "classic" Weird Al albums-- the 80s stuff, done when he looked like he was in his twenties, the era of "Y-O-D-A" and "Fat"-- the songs that people still think of first when they hear the name Weird Al. The albums that I have are his most recent ones, the ones done where he looks like he's in his twenties. The 90s era. The spoofs of songs that I actually recognized as part of pop culture. And, unfortunately, the source of a good number of dud songs.

My brother had a tape of Off the Deep End back in 1992 or so-- it was the age of Wayne's World, of grunge rock, of Desert Storm, of New Kids on the Block, of MC Hammer. It was a rich musical and cultural landscape, back when even the ciphers of pop had personality. (You could always make fun of NKotB, but what fun is it to mock N'Sync? It's like kicking a sand castle.) And so Weird Al's take on the era was a pretty good one: "Smells Like Nirvana" became nicely un-PC to play in Cobain drag after the spoofee killed himself, but Al did it anyway. "Trigger Happy" is deliciously satisfying to play at easily offended gun fanciers. And the rest of the album is equally inspired, too, with spoofs a-plenty ("The White Stuff" and "Can't Watch This" being just as straight-up and workmanlike as the songs they derived from, which I'm sure was part of the point) and classics like "When I was Your Age" and "You Don't Love Me Anymore". It's a good album-- a product of its age, with only a couple of forgettable entries ("Airline Amy" and "I Was Only Kidding" being the kind that just seem to drag interminably).

The next album, however, Alapalooza, signalled a worrying decline. There were some hits-- "Jurassic Park" and "Achy Breaky Song" were rich and tasty earfuls of pop-culture sendup that helped to assuage a high-schooler who had yet even to be assaulted by the Macarena, and "Livin' in the Fridge" was inspired, top-notch work. The songs were big, loud, brash, powerful, energetic-- again, just like the age it came from, when the cultural landscape was becoming more restless and agitated. The President was a permissive Democrat. Movies' special effects (see Jurassic Park and Terminator 2) were true-to-life, blurring the edges of reality. The Simpsons and Beavis & Butt-head had brought sharp, offensive social commentary into prime time and banished the staid prudishness of the Bush era, and Weird Al's satirical music had to expand to fit. But more so than the hits, the "filler" of Alapalooza was what had grown. "Traffic Jam" and "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime" were forgettable, and "Young, Dumb & Ugly" was just bad-- possibly one of Al's worst songs ever, with a weak premise and no melody to speak of. But the album limps to a thumbs-up on the strength of its originals-- "Waffle King" as a "Sledgehammer" style-sendup, and "Frank's 2000-inch TV" a nice silly classic-- and the closer, "Bohemian Polka", a stroke of genius.

But when it comes to Bad Hair Day, oh man-- what a disappointment. This has to have been the low point in Al's career. While the lead-off track, "Amish Paradise", is some of his best work ever, the rest of the album spirals rapidly down into the land of oatmeal, rice, breadcrumbs, and whatever else fills in the cracks when there's not enough prime cuts to go around. Now, "Gump" is brilliant, "Cavity Search" is a cynical, growly glimmer of the pop awareness of his previous albums, and "Since You've Been Gone" has that bizarre doo-wop-chorus-that-gets-away-from-him thing in the middle that's got to be one of the most inspired bits of lunacy I've ever heard out of Al. The harmonized "Loser" segment on "The Alternative Polka" is so very-very tasty. But "Callin' In Sick", "I'm Sick of You", "Syndicated Inc.", "I Remember Larry", and "Phony Calls" are all so worthless that Al should be ashamed of releasing this CD. That's what, twenty minutes of garbage-- uninspired, asymmetrical, open-ended, unbalanced pieces of desperation flailing for a grip on something in pop culture to use as an anchor. It's like Al was trying to reach back to his success of the 80s at the same time as he tried to grasp the unnerving subtleties of the 1996 music scene-- an unfamiliar place where ska and swing jostled for the spotlight, "alternative" had splintered, and "rock" in the traditional sense had dissolved almost completely into gutless R&B or experimental Madonna pop. Small wonder Weird Al had no idea what to make of it all. Even the closer, "The Night Santa Went Crazy", ordinarily something that would absolve the disc of turdiness, is hamstrung by censorship: the track most people have is the one where Santa is merely sent to federal prison, rather than felled by a sniper bullet to the head. A wimpy, halfhearted whimper of an end for an album that didn't have much going for it anyway.

But then something happened in 1999: Running With Scissors. Where the hell did this come from? Here we'd thought Weird Al was dead, gone to that great musical graveyard that had swallowed Tom Petty and Huey Lewis alike, the Pit of 80s Greatness from which no modern artist has escaped. But this album is great. It's fantastic. I'd thought it was really good when I first got it, but I didn't know if that was just because it was new; well, now it's not, and I know for sure: it's what makes up for all the previous albums' mediocrity.

The first thing one notices is that this album quite possibly has more words on it than any other album, by him or by any other artist. Between "Jerry Springer", "The Saga Begins", "Your Horoscope For Today", and "Albuquerque", the traditional CD liner couldn't hold all the lyrics that Al traditionally includes, and he had to cop-out at the end with a smirk ("Maybe we should have used a smaller font or something..."). It's like he went from singing like a Disney heroine to singing like an auctioneer. And that doesn't even address the quality of the tracks, which is unmatched by anything else of his in my possession. "The Saga Begins", of course, is the deserving headliner; but no less noteworthy are "It's All About the Pentiums", "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi", and "Jerry Springer"-- all reflecting the newfound complexity of the musical scene, what with Barenaked Ladies and Eminem shaking up the genre boundaries with forceful statements of purpose that don't leave anybody but the traditionalist pundits confused. "Germs" is something I never thought I'd see-- a Nine Inch Nails parody-- and "Your Horoscope For Today" is USDA Prime Weird Al-- stuffed so full of great gags and musical tricks that I never tire of hearing it and never chest-slap past it when my iPod picks it for me. "The Weird Al Show Theme" is a ton of fun, as is "Truck Drivin' Song" (an instant classic among my social circle), and "Albuquerque" finishes out the album with a style and energy that I didn't think Al had in him anymore, not since "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota". What was it? Was it just shaving his moustache that did the trick? What's his secret? The only forgettable parts of the album are "Grapefruit Diet" (which is actually fairly ambitious, heading back to big-band jazz for its musical substrate) and, surprisingly, "Polka Power"-- his polkas seldom miss. But this one does, I think. Maybe only because I don't know most of the songs in it, but still. Eh.

At any rate, it's now three years later, which means it's about time for a new Weird Al album to appear. I don't know if he can possibly top Running With Scissors, but I'd love to see him try. Even if he fails, it's bound to be a good ride-- because it's now clear that he's nowhere near on his way down. He's only just now hitting his stride.

13:02 - Okay-- now that my blogging muscles are a little less sore...

I can say one thing now for sure: I like skiing one helluva lot more than snowboarding.

I'm sure this is largely attributable to the fact that I have a total of one day of starting-from-scratch snowboarding experience, as opposed to some ten years or more of skiing, and because snowboarding is a whole lot more punishing to beginners than skiing is. I can list all kinds of rationale, saying how once you learn all the little tricks and get your balance working properly, snowboarding is so much more liberating and flexible than skiing, and even less tiring, and more convenient (you can walk in the boots), and so on. But try telling that to my leg and neck muscles.

See, when you're sliding down the mountain on your toe edge, and you catch the heel edge on downhill snow, you immediately pitch over backwards, swinging past horizontal until you splatter spread-eagle onto the slope with your head pointed downhill. Now, consider that this all happens within one second-- you've got whatever downward momentum you were carrying, plus whatever gravity can impart to a spherical object the size and shape of your head at the end of a large heavy swinging lever the size and shape of your body. What happens? Well, one thing that leaps easily to my mind at the moment is that your head goes clonk on the rock-hard icy ground, right on the point at the back of the skull. And you know what's even better? Your body naturally tries to resist this falling motion; what muscles are suddenly pressed into service that you've never really thought about before? Those two diagonal muscles on the left and right side of your neck, the ones that bulge out in superheroes' most stressed-out moments. Those muscles pull your head forward. When your head is being flung backwards down a mountain, they pull like they've never pulled before. And while they may on occasion save you from a concussion, you wake up the next morning unable to raise your head from the pillow.

So it was for me Sunday morning. But snowboarding is nothing if not unpredictable in its demands on the body; as much as my neck has been wishing it were attached to some other, more stay-at-home body for the past couple of days, my calves and thighs have been even harder put to the task. Walking is an adventure. Raising my legs onto the bar under my desk is impossible without the aid of my hands. My forearms are going to look like Popeye's in a day or two after they rebuild the muscles that I abused for about half an hour trying to get the ungodly-thick liner back into my gloves as I stood there sweating in the Sierra sun under layer after layer of padded ski clothes, trying desperately to recover my breath from the bizarrely intense exertion of trying to stay upright on a snowboard. But you know what? Whenever my body gets like this, I know it's because I've been out having fun.

After the snowboarding trauma of Saturday, Sunday on skis was like putting on brand-new clean socks for the first time: everything was good, all my cares fell away, and all the aches in my complaining legs vanished. I had my video camera out for the first run down the mountain-- I was prepared to tape Drew and David taking off from the top, and then follow them; but I figured, hey, what the hell-- and took off in pursuit, still taping. I discovered why it is that I enjoy skiing so much: I've reached the point where I don't have to think about it. I can just go as fast as I like down the mountain, and engage in other tasks (like keeping the camera trained on speeding friends) without having to worry about balance or keeping my knees bent properly or being on the proper edge. It's that kind of feeling of freedom that I normally get from skiing (effortless speed and absolute decadent leisure), only amplified by how difficult the previous day had been. The temperature was perfect, the snow was actually not too bad considering the lack of recent precipitation in the Sierras, and my friends were having a great time as well. It's enough to make a guy whoop-n-holler as he swooshes down a steep wooded corridor.

But that isn't to say that it was without its downsides. I was coming down Lower Snowshoe, an intermediate run that usually gives me no problems; but the slope was icy today, and I had left my gloves off (the sun was a little bit punishing still). And, well, I hit an ice patch, my skis washed out from under me, and my hands went into the "snow". Only it wasn't snow so much as the blades of icy knives; no powder here, only merciless freezing numbing pain. When I got down to the bottom of the slope (where David had, mercifully, not been able to get the camera working in time to capture my wipe-out), my hands were glistening a bright, sticky red. But fortunately it was just minor abrasions, and after a few more runs down the trail and some attention to them during lunch, my hands were back in working order, and the afternoon was more of the same joyous freedom of the morning.

So now I'm paying the price. Just last night, I was sitting in my desk chair with my hands clasped behind my head; with my head's weight thus supported, I was relaxed and happy. But as soon as I unclasped my fingers and removed my hands, my head began to fall backward of its own accord. My neck muscles were unable to hold my head upright-- they'd just given up, or gone on strike, or dynamited the factory, or something-- and I had to grab my head again quickly before it simply fell off my body and rolled under my desk.

But that's a small fee outlaid in exchange for my favorite kind of weekend getaway. And pending snow conditions improving within the next month or so, we might just do it again.
Sunday, March 3, 2002
22:57 - I... hurt...

Well, I'm back from skiing. Pardon me if this is brief-- after a day of snowboarding and clonking my head repeatedly on the ground, and then another day of being similarly silly on skis, my body is just about to shut down on me in protest. So while I promise to return to the full upright blogging position tomorrow (okay, maybe later tonight), I must make mention of this, the coolest license plate I have ever seen:

Bear in mind that this is seen in the mirror. In other words, the plate actually reads "3OHAT YM".
Friday, March 1, 2002
20:10 - Wind: the Destroyer and Cleanser


When I woke up this morning, it was after a night of my window being rattled by high winds-- not something that usually happens around here, especially not at night. But the result was that in the morning we had a beautiful crisp clear Silicon Valley sky, with the mountains over Cupertino clearly visible in all their detail from my vantage point in San Jose.

Unfortunately, this same wind seems to be happening up in the High Sierra-- which is where we're going in a few minutes for a ski weekend. They're talking about 10-15 mph sustained winds gusting up to 50 at the ridgetops and over 60 on the Sierra Crest. Skiing in high wind ain't fun. Especially if it's a cold wind, driving icy specks into your face and holding the chairs dangling from their cables at a 30-degree slant.

The good news, though, is that the weather reports from Sierra-at-Tahoe seem to indicate that the winds will be calming down a bit in the next couple of days-- 5-10 mph sustained, gusting up to "only" about 40. And if that's part of a trend, we should be up for a pretty good weekend of skiing and (for my part) first-time snowboarding.

I've also got this new camcorder, so expect lots of embarrassing footage when I get back. See you all on Sunday night...

12:42 - Today's Bush-ism

"This is serious business... and we're taking it serious. ...Ly."

12:40 - Man, that's gotta suck...

NPR this morning had an interviewee by the name of Heidi Hall.

I would venture to guess that she's not a huge fan of South Park.

"Heeiiiiiiidi Haaaaaaallll...!"
Thursday, February 28, 2002
02:43 - I've got four words for you: Explosive Pissing Beef Balls.


Stephen Chow's most recent cult hit, Shaolin Soccer, was the subject of an entry here a few weeks ago; in it, I mentioned that I still hadn't seen Chow's previous seminal effort, The God of Cookery, a movie whose very mention to members of my social circle results in people falling to the ground in fits of streaming-eyed chortling.

Well, now I've seen it. Drew and David's laserdisc copy had been sitting on my end table for two weeks now for me to watch, and I only just now finally got around to it.

My conclusion? Pretty f^%$ed up.

It's a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of a Chinese chef/critic (the self-proclaimed God of Cookery, sharing the director's name, Stephen Chow) who is ousted from his position of privilege in a cooking competition against a former student. From his arrogant, high-rolling, playing-the-stock-market-from-his-cell-phone pinnacle of prestige, he is cast into the gutter, where he somehow manages to reconcile the two sides of a street-restaurant turf war (one specializing in "Pissing Shrimp" and the other in "Beef Balls") by suggesting a new and revolutionary concoction: Pissing Beef Balls. They're so wonderful, as the warring-no-more chefs screech with water spraying delightedly from their mouths, that they take the food industry by storm and the former God of Cookery rockets back toward the top.

His love interest is a woman called Turkey, an expert in making the vaunted Beef Balls, whose teeth resemble a beautiful white picket fence in both shape and size. She bursts quite unexpectedly into song for Chow, driving Zjonni into retreat to a remote room far from Hong Kong slapstick kung-fu cooking movies.

The "God of Cookery" competition then begins, pitting Chow against his usurper in a battle royale that is either a direct lift from Iron Chef or the direct inspiration for it; since both this movie and the Japanese series date from about 1996, I'm not at all sure which came first. But it's all there, right down to the flamboyant Chairman Kaga-esque MC and the dragon-lady food connoisseur who's judging the match from behind her horn-rimmed glasses. She dances around in her bright purple suit and flings out contestants right and left for minor infractions; she wants to see the two super-chefs go at it, and conveniently enough, they're facing each other down like gunslingers.

A flashback tells the story of how Chow stumbled away from a hit attempt (that resulted in Turkey getting shot in the face) down a hill and into a Shaolin monastery-- where he learned the true art of kung-fu cooking from the Eighteen Brassmen of Shaolin Monastery! <dramatic group pose> They beat him up several times, he weeps over his lost love and his hair turns silver, and finally he comes out of the flashback and the fight begins.

Think Iron Chef with kung-fu. They make a dish called "Buddha Jumping Wall" (I always wonder, do they find these names to be sensible? Or is it schtick to them?), demonstrating the ability to chop food in fractions of seconds while it's being tossed through the air, to burst food into flames by sheer force of will, and to beat each other with folding chairs. ("Great folding chair technique!" enthuses the dragon-lady. "It's ranked among the top seven weapons. The police can't charge you for weapon possession!") They finish their presentations and present them for judging-- and the judge is so overcome with sorrow at the "Sorrowful Rice" dish that Chow was forced to make that she chooses his enemy's "Buddha Jumping Wall" as the winner. But Just Then...

The clouds part and the true heavenly fairies of cooking come down to anoint Chow with the godlike powers he truly has earned. They turn his former investing partner into a dog, and they punch a big circular hole in his opponent's chest. Then Turkey comes back to life with her teeth magically straightened by plastic surgery.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. That's how it ends.

It's a very fast-paced movie; the dialogue goes by fast and furious, and you can't look away for a second lest you miss crucial subtitles (which often vanish into the white background). The pacing is bizarre, full of repetition and flashbacks, but I honestly can't say I've seen much that's funnier than the reaction when the first Explosive Pissing Beef Ball is consumed. Think "Jumping Sorrowful Hose Inside Mouth with Salty Beef Buddha and Nipples Hardened Song of Love".

13:14 - See, Cube computers are still cool!


A guy in Belgium has made this custom machined-aluminum computer case. Looks pretty cool, huh? It's got blue light glowing up from inside, and pseudo-SGI-looking laser-cut logos in the sides and top. Damn, that's cool!

...Except... look at the CD-ROM drive. And think about how big this thing must be.


(And for the record, the G4 Cube was just about as wide as that CD-ROM drive. You could fit about eight of them inside this case. But bigger computers are faster, as everybody knows, which is why nobody bought Cubes.)

12:43 - In a battle between practicality and idealism...

... I'll take practicality more often than not.

(Maybe that's why I was on Prac track in Physics, rather than Anal.)

A lively discussion this morning on NPR was between proponents and opponents of Proposition 41, which would approve bonds to buy new voting machines which, by a recently-passed law, must be in place throughout California by 2004.

The "Yes" side is really quite straightforward. We have to have these machines; the law says so. They'll cost $300 million today. They'll cost $400 million tomorrow, and if we wait until 2004, they'll cost $500 million or more. The way the numbers work out, incurring some bonds as soon as possible is the way that we minimize the amount of money we will have to spend in order to be in compliance with the law. It's very simple.

The "No" side, however, seems to consist of people in a hissy fit. "We just blew through a $20 billion surplus in the biggest spending binge in history!" they cry. "If this is so important, we should have budgeted for it when we had the cash in hand!"

Well, maybe. But what the "No" guys keep sidling around is the fact that there is this law that says we have to buy the machines one way or another. That law is not up for debate. We have exactly one choice here: Buy the machines. The only axis over which we have control is how soon we do it and with what funds. The "Yes" guys say "Use bond debt, because that will be the cheapest in the long run". The "No" guys say "Don't do it at all! Stamp your little feet and throw a tantrum, and maybe they won't make you buy these machines at all!"

There are thousands of programs that don't make it into any given budget, and thousands of reasons why they don't. Just because the upgraded voting machines weren't dealt with in the $20 billion surplus we just spent (before the install-by-2004 law was passed, I might add) does not mean that we don't need the machines. We as voters want to ensure we won't have a repeat of Florida, and we're willing to pay for that surety. We're not being given the option to shriek and wail and not upgrade the machines at all out of some kind of spiteful "Hey, you didn't want the money before-- what? What's that? You need it now? Whoops, sorry! Too late!" pettiness. I like to think we're above that.

Idealism is good for some things; I should know. Mac fandom wouldn't get far these days without a certain amount of idealistic fervor, and when it comes to blue-sky design, adhering to ideals is an admirable goal. But this isn't software we're designing here. This is a pressing statewide problem that must be solved, and the solution is right there for us to vote "Yes" on. Saying that "we should have thought about that when we had the money" is the same mentality that would deny abortions to rape victims.

When there's a problem, you solve it. You can't legislate away a baby, and you can't wish away a law with a tantrum.

11:23 - The "Olive Garden Screed"

I don't know how these things get tallied over at the Blogdex, but the latest screed by Lileks is being touted as "the sixth most linked blog on the Net", and I think it deserves it. Hey, and this will make it the seventh! Wait... no, I'm almost positive that that isn't how it works.

I hadn't linked to it before because he'd already put up today's Bleat, and what with the quality of choicest sarcasm and observation flowing from Minneapolis lately, I'm just having trouble believing in a lone writer theory.

In any case, go read the Olive Garden Screed. Everybody else is doin' it! And as Instapundit suggests, drop a few bucks in his tip jar. Support the Lileks Bloggin' Gnomes Conspiracy!

04:30 - Just... go read the Bleat today.

Skip past the Bleat Primer stuff (if you're impatient) and start about 2/3 down the page, at:
But there's more! I found this website via Fark today, and it just depressed me unutterably. The following excerpt is pathetic and sad, on so many levels. See if you can figure out what this is. The language is rather fractured because it's translated from the Arabic, and I won't make fun of that since I speak but one tongue, and hence have no business joshing at those who are less than expert in a second language. But the ideas come across intact:

What he then quotes and annotates is the Readme file from a video game called Underash-- a militant Muslim video game.

Lileks doesn't say much about the game itself, other than that it stinks; but his point-by-point pick-through of the Readme file is that inimitable mix of irresistibly funny and helplessly saddening that is the hallmark of so much Lileks commentary. The Readme, as he demonstrates, is apparently the developers' manifesto for proving beyond all doubt that despite a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to keep game technology out of Muslim reach, the valiant Developers of Allah have persevered and brought out this game, thus proving their elect status in the technological world, the Chosen Geeks of God who have broken the impenetrable anti-Muslim code that has held them back so unjustly from realizing their eternal dream... of creating a third-person shooter game in which you slay Jews and destroy Israel.

I'm sure this looks to Muslims about the same as Wolfenstein 3-D did to us, but... I don't know. It's not like Wolfenstein was released in 1943.

It's been a number of weeks now since the Spectator article that cast a stark light on the ideological differences between Israel and the Arab world, and (in an eerie parallel) between America and Europe. Israel channels its energy into social end economic fulfillment, the article concluded, and Islam channels its energy into "pathetic victim fantasies". It would have been a very harsh judgment if it didn't continue to be borne out as true by revelation after revelation, coming from the oddest and least looked-for quarters.

An enterprising Israeli company, as I heard recently on NPR, is making a fortune making and selling camel's-milk ice cream (camels apparently are easier to herd than cows for dairy, they give about ten times as much milk, and the milk doesn't bother people with lactose intolerance, among numerous other reported advantages).

And during the seven years that this company has spent refining its product and marketing it to an eager public, Dar Al-Fikr has managed to produce... a video game that lets people live out their fantasies of dying in holy jihad. And to read their Readme, you'd think this was the ultimate living proof of the rightness of their cause.

I'll never grumble about Asheron's Call again.


Wednesday, February 27, 2002
02:21 - Yaargh, too many to quote!

Marcus sends me this link: Very Stupid Human Tricks. There are enough here to keep you busy for a good hour, and once you get started you won't want to stop, so clear your schedule.

Many of these are oldies-but-goodies that I remember seeing as far back as 1994; but many more are new to me. You'll undoubtedly find something here for which you haven't already developed humor antibodies.

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American association for Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story.

"On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this."

"Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended.

That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his hands.

"The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the a window striking Opus.

"When one intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded.
The old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her -therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

"The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother.

The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

There was an exquisite twist.

"Further investigation revealed that the son [Ronald Opus] had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the ten-story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window.

"The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide."

That one's got to be my favorite.

22:06 - Venn Diagrams and l33t h4xX0rz


Cute... very cute.

I'm told that the comments following this one are largely of the "I sold my soul to Windows 2000 and am not intending to upgrade to any ghey XP or fisher price computar machien" variety. So in the interest of my remaining in good spirits, I'll skip those.

22:00 - Hey, way to make my drive home fun!

I don't know if it's Cool Movie Producers Week on Fresh Air on NPR or what, but so far they're three-for-three. Monday it was a retrospective on Chuck Jones, incorporating interviews with him from the 80s, complete with analyses of where characters like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny came from and how the animators shaped the characters ("Duck Amuck" was originally supposed to have featured Bugs getting abused by the anonymous paintbrush-wielding animator, who was to have turned out to be Elmer Fudd). Yesterday it was an interview with Peter Jackson (albeit a short and not very insightful one), covering the making of Lord of the Rings; it didn't talk much about anything I didn't know already, but it did give me a chance to hear what PJ's voice sounds like. And today it was John Lasseter, talking about Monsters Inc. and how the concept grew and how the creatures were designed and how computer animation works and all that good stuff. I don't know if Terrie Gross chooses her interviewees herself or what, but if she does, she knows what I wanna hear.

Maybe it's that the Academy Awards™ are coming up soon, and Monsters Inc. and LotR have four and thirteen nominations respectively; so it stands to reason that the people responsible for these achievements should show up on NPR. (One of the biggest surprises I had in my life, and the reason why I started listening to it in the car, was flipping to it on the drive home and finding an honest-to-goodness live interview with Mel Brooks.)

I wonder who's up tomorrow? Genndy Tartakovsky?
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
19:10 - Maya Personal Learning Edition!


Well hey, would you look at this! Alias/Wavefront has just released a freely downloadable Learning Edition of Maya, so now people can learn how to do cool 3D without a) selling their internal organs to raise the $35,000 for a copy, or b) pirating it.

A few features are crippled (resolution is limited to 1024x768, you can't output to QuickTime, images are watermarked, etc), but overall the crippling seems to be quite reasonable.

I guess A/W has come to the conclusion that this is a worthwhile thing to do-- they've been paying attention to the trends, and they've decided that it's more worthwhile to provide a legit path by which people can learn their software (and thus choose to use it rather than the competition, later) legally, rather than requiring every potential 3D animator to take classes or to pirate the software.

It warms my heart to see a company making compromises to address pressing issues. Aaahh...

19:04 - Fear the Geese, Pitiful Hu-man!

Nobody trashes a movie like Lileks does. Today's Bleat is one of the best ones I've seen out of him in a long time, and that's saying something.

This is the kind of writing style that I'd love to be able to do, and that Hiker is proving to be excellent at. I doubt I'll be able to get there, though-- it's just not my style. There's a price one pays for spending the first 18 years of one's life being studiously joyless.

Ah well-- I may get better. We'll see.

16:06 - Google: A Force of Good

This is apparently new. Google now has a "Language Tools" option that lets you use the Google interface pages in any of 74 different languages. And not just the usual gotta-have-these-checkbox-items-to-avoid-lawsuits languages, either. They've got Klingon. They've got Esperanto. They've got Pig Latin. They've got actual Latin. There's even Hacker.

To say nothing, of course, of all the real languages that people might in fact find useful, including lots of languages with non-Roman character sets. Chinese (two types), Russian, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese-- if you've got an OS that understands Unicode, it's awfully fun to look at Vietnamese text and revel in the novelty of it all.

You go, Google. Geek power to the people.

15:54 - Bet he crashes soon, though...


Hee hee hee! User Friendly can be funny sometimes, even when it's just doing more Microsoft-bashing. actually, that's when it's most successful and in-its-element, more's the pity.
Monday, February 25, 2002
15:55 - It's just not as surreal around here without him...

Chris and Kris and David and I were on our way back from lunch at Armadillo Willy's today. In front of the Chinese restaurant where Togo's used to be is turning into a nexus of bloggable events; today, in exactly the same spot, we had another one at least as memorable as the Stupid Bicyclist who I mentioned in an earlier post.

Today, Chris (who had just returned from two weeks back in Australia, during which everything was unaccountably boring around here) was talking about how back in the early 90s he had developed a file naming scheme for his company's documentation process that was consistent with Microsoft's 8.3-character filename restriction. ("If only they had stayed with that," David said, "It would have been okay. At least it would have been consistent. But nooo... now we have FILENA~1.TXT with embedded filename headers-- the worst of both worlds! And five years from now, all the DLLs in Windows will still have 8.3 filenames!")

Chris' scheme was as follows: two letters for the author's initials, a number for the year, a letter for the month, a 2-digit number for the day, and a two-digit serial number.

I was thinking aloud about how well this would work-- whether you could uniquely define all documents like this. The way he'd set it up, you could-- the year digit only covered 1990 through 1999, the stated lifespan of the project, and the "month" column was labeled as a, b, c, d, and so on-- not the first initial of the month name.

So, in a deadpan, I said, "Well, it doesn't take into account years that are longer than 26 months."

He thought about it for about 0.00028 seconds. Then he leaped at me and flung me into the ivy shrieking with rage for my having caused him to use up a precious brain cycle thinking about that. "THE THING IS, IS!!!" he screamed into my face (one of my well-known conversational pet peeves).

We were halfway down the next block before we stopped laughing.

Sometimes I feel awfully guilty for enjoying my job so much... but I can't think of a good solution to that.
Sunday, February 24, 2002
00:43 - The New Family Bible

Well, I'd love to have been able to find the original text of this article that I heard read tonight on "Five Minutes", part of TechNation on NPR; but while they said with great confidence that the full text of all "Five Minutes" articles would be available at siliconvalley.com, I've just spent the past half hour combing that site to find any mention of "Five Minutes" or TechNation or NPR, to no avail whatsoever.

So, to ad-lib it...

The columnist talked about how she hadn't yet been bitten yet by the "digital camera bug"-- a) because the technology isn't quite up to the same snuff as film prints, and b) because computers crash. Who'd trust their family history to a computer?

She dwelt on the issue of family photos being a seminal feature of our concepts of our lives. People her age, she said, only had a few grainy black-and-white photos of them as babies; the only context that identified the featured baby as her was the clothes worn by the other people in the photos; the baby may as well have been clip-art. But today, kids are growing up with all their childhoods fully archived-- photographed in full color, blown up to poster size, videotaped, recorded in all ways imaginable-- "they're media darlings," she said.

And yet we want to have those physical photos locked away in boxes. The physical reality of photos that we can lift and that take up space in the closet reassures us.

And yet, as she says in the wrap-up of the article, it's up to every generation to preserve its legacy by embracing the technologies of the next generation. So she may have to bite the bullet and jump into the digital photography world. And here's the bit that I found interesting:

A classic demographical experiment is to ask a person, "Your house is on fire. You can run in and grab one personal item. What will it be?"

Up till the early part of the 20th century, the response was always "The family Bible."

After that, it was "The family photo album."

And as she closes the article, we have passed another milestone: How many of us would answer, "My computer"?

I would.

Because I don't have any non-digital photos... or indeed much of anything of value that isn't on my computer. I have geek toys, but they all juggle data (whether photos, MP3s, Palm contacts, or DV video), and that data is on the computer now. Everything else I have... well, I could always get new ones.

I wonder how significant to the human condition the answer to that hypothetical question is? Since there have been so few changes to the common response in recorded history, one would think it's pretty darn fundamental...

20:26 - Okay, who's been flouting the Temporal Prime Directive?


Transparent Aluminum has been developed. (Well, "aluminium", which has the same chemical structure. Heh.)

It looks to be legit-- der Spiegel is a pretty reputable German news organ.

So I guess now we can make... uh, starship shielding, or something...
Saturday, February 23, 2002
03:48 - Tit-for-Tat

I mentioned this Game Theory post by Steven den Beste a few days ago, but today I thought about it a little more. (And no, I still haven't seen A Beautiful Mind. Tomorrow, probably. After I take care of those boxes.)

Specifically, I was considering the "tit-for-tat" model of playing the Prisoner's Dilemma game: you do what the other guy did in the last round. So you play fair until he cheats, at which point you cheat, and if he plays fair, then you're back on track. This model is not ideal, but it's been demonstrated to be the most effective one available-- and so it's the method upon which the nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction contingency and the Geneva Convention are constructed.

When Tit-for-tat plays against itself, it plays fair for the entire game and maximizes output. When it plays against anyone who tosses in some cheating, it punishes it by cheating back and reduces the other guys unfair winnings.

No-one has ever found a way of defeating it.

Maybe not. Except in the Real World.

Consider this hypothetical situation: Two adversaries playing tit-for-tat. Everything goes along fine forever, nobody cheats.

Except then you inject one cheating round on one side: One guy cheats. And his opponent then cheats in retaliation. The first guy returns to tit-for-tat-- and he cheats. So does his adversary. And now everybody's cheating, and it's a cycle that will not be broken until a second injection is made: a voluntary "play fair" round that one guy decides to do, just out of the goodness of his heart (because surely there's no rational reason to do it). But that's the only way to get both sides to play fair again.

It strikes me that this model is a lot closer to how the Real World works. We all sort of instinctually follow the tit-for-tat rules; by our nature we try to avoid confrontation if we can avoid it, especially if we're in large organizations. We won't soil our own nest by being needlessly mistrustful; but we'll react if we're threatened. But human interactions are very complex, especially in large organizations; they involve lots of misconstruable shades of meaning, and lots of rationalizing and self-assuredness-- including the concept of "I do this for the greater good". And when a country makes a decision to undertake some back-door ploy, or to cut a third-party deal, or to do anything that isn't out in the open and done by the rules agreed to by the adversary, the game has had that first cheat injected into it. Once the adversary finds out about it, he cheats back-- and then the two opponents are locked into a cycle of mistrust and constant cheating, unbreakable except by a good-faith act by one of the adversaries who does it regardless of whether it makes any financial or political sense to do it.

This is where the US and the Soviet Union were throughout the Cold War. Who was the first to inject the first seed of mistrust into the game? Nobody really knows. But the result was clear: neither side trusted the other to play by the rules. We always assumed they knew more than they were telling us, and they assumed the same of us; we always assumed they were readying some sneaky move against us, and they assumed the same of us. And yet both sides knew that tit-for-tat was still the best model for handling the game, and so we kept using it-- continuing to distrust, until the good-faith motions on the part of Gorbachev's moribund USSR injected the solution into the game, leading to the collapse of that country and its superpower status, and also of the Cold War and the large part of our long-standing policy of mistrust.

Tit-for-tat does remain the most effective policy, it's true-- but only in an ideal world, where both sides follow that model and no cheating ever occurs, or where a tit-for-tat player plays against a randomized player (where no pattern forms based on feedback injected back into the system by the game's results).

But neither of those conditions accurately describes the Real World, in which everybody plays by tit-for-tat on the surface, but where we always keep the possibility of spontaneously cheating open... and where human nuance leads to a real or imagined cheat finding its way into even the most well-intentioned game. And then follows forty years of bristling and glowering and waiting for someone to make a move. Hardly what I'd call "maximized output" or "ideal"... but for human nature, that's what we can expect.

03:19 - Light on the East Bay


I spent today up in Oakland and Berkeley visiting with my parents-- it's a convenient meeting point that's easy for them to reach and about 45 minutes from me. We had lunch in Jack London Square, then drove up through their old haunts (they used to live in the area before ditching the city life). As Telegraph Ave. climbs through Berkeley, the street vendors cluster more and more thickly until a couple of blocks from the UC campus, where knitted caps and hemp products are sold from tables from which flows smoke from smoldering incense. Apparently not that much has changed in 30 years.

Up Strawberry Canyon and thence to the Lawrence Hall of Science, a favorite destination of mine as a kid, and still fun today-- especially for the view of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is quite possibly the best and clearest view available in the area. The weather today shifted schizophrenically from overcast to rainy to stabbed-through with clear blasts of sunlight, and by the time I got back home the clouds had broken enough to give me that fully-lit-green-hills-against-dark-cloudy-sky contrast that I love so much.

Then I headed over to the Pepper Tree place where we watched The Fast and the Furious, which Paul ought to like (it has a Supra in it)-- interesting idea, a rice-boy street racer movie in which the only Asian characters ride motorcycles. Not half bad, actually, if ridden through with cliches ("No, Fidget Boy! Don't put up the pink slip for your car so cockily as collateral against this race! Can't you see how the director is trying so hard to pretent he's being nonchalant about the scene? Except if the scene is so routine and as-planned, why would he bother filming it? It's a setup, I tell you! Why don't you just talk about how you'll go home from the war, marry your girl Mabel Sue, and get a nice little house with a white picket fence and a tree with a swingset--KABOOM!")... big and loud, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Anyway, this is yet another Saturday that I've spent almost entirely not at home. That's great and all, but I've got a lot of geek-toy boxes to throw away-- PS2, digital camera, iBook battery, iPod, FireWire drive enclosure, DV camcorder, steering-wheel game controller, and iBook, all stacked under my animation table. They'll have to undergo a winnowing tomorrow, whether they like it or not.
Friday, February 22, 2002
19:43 - Free Speech... or Free Beer?

Isn't it nice when all the topics I've been posting about recently all come together in a single article?

This one, by Lawrence Lessic of the American Spectator, explores three themes that I've been on lately: 1) Apple, 2) Copyrights and digital music and video piracy, and 3) the concepts of "freedom" as we in the US see it and as others elsewhere see it.

It's a long article, and I admit I haven't even read through it all yet-- I'm posting it here as much so I can remember to read it completely when I get home as to get it into circulation among those who read this blog. But just from reading the first few pages of it, I was struck by how it so neatly drew together all these subjects that interest me. It looks like it'll be a good read, too.

16:45 - Just another day on the river...


And this guy just happened to be there with his camera when this occurred. Imagine all the things that go on when nobody's there to record it for posterity...

16:14 - The Tale of Lola


Nancy Reed at AppleLust details the story of her quest for a new iMac. (I suspect that the Fry's she visited was the same one I visited today, in Sunnyvale-- which has an iMac on display. As I was playing with the screen and resizing Finder windows to see how fast it went, I kept wondering where that soft but recognizable tune, "Glade" from Trevor Jones' Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, was coming from-- it was so clear and had lots of bass, but I couldn't figure out the source of what I thought was store Muzak. Then I opened iTunes and discovered that it was the iMac playing it. Man, I'd underestimated those little round speakers.)

It's looking like it'll be another week or two before iMacs are shipping in sufficient quantities for me to be able to bring one back in triumph to work and have it kick aside this petulant beige Win2K machine. But I find myself watching the news sites now, making casual calls to the local Apple Stores and ComputerWare, and walking by Elite Computers next door (where I'll probably end up getting it from) and pressing my mouth up against the glass and blowing my cheeks out.
Thursday, February 21, 2002
23:19 - Brian the Mallrat

Bigger is not always better. Especially when it comes to malls.

The mall near where I live is the Eastridge Mall, off Capitol Expressway, right next to Raging Waters. You can even see it in one of those photos I took from Quimby road. It's got three levels (or two, depending on how you count the weird pseudo-split-level near the middle that shelves a whole bunch of stores onto a semi-floor that puts me in mind of Being John Malkovich), a ton of stores, and all the parking in the world. When it opened in the late 80s or early 90s, it was one of the biggest malls anyone had ever seen, and it served the whole upscale eastern residential region of Silicon Valley.

You'd think that such a mall would be a good place to look for a software store, wouldn't you?

Well, let me tell you this: Eastridge Mall is completely useless. Every single time I've ever been to Eastridge, I have left angry and unsatisfied. For all its stores and all its parking and all its locationlocationlocation, it's the worst mall I've ever been in, especially when looking for a simple software store.

Why is this? It's because Eastridge is a mall that has passed the Shoe Event Horizon. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it is a place where it is apparently no longer economically feasible to open anything but a shoe store. Shoes own Eastridge, to the exclusion of anything else. I went into the mall last Christmas, looking for a place to buy a computer game. I went to the map kiosk near the entrance. I looked for "Electronics"-- okay, nothing. I look for "Computers"-- nothing. What do I find? About thirty separate entries for shoe stores, under like five different categories. MEN'S FORMAL. WOMEN'S FORMAL. MEN'S ATHLETIC. WOMEN'S ATHLETIC. CHILDREN'S. This cannot be happening, I told myself. This can't be-- Oh, but wait! Look, under "Specialty"-- there's an Electronics Boutique! ...And it's right down below me, right across the entrance plaza on the first floor, just down an escalator. In fact, it's right th--

And that's when I noticed that the Electronics Boutique, evidently recently enough that the kiosk had not been updated to reflect it, had been taken out-- and replaced with A SHOE STORE.

So I've not been back to Eastridge since then, except on one or two morbid occasions where I was in the area and felt the need to go in and see if anything had magically changed. It hadn't. I no longer hold out any hope that there is anything in that mall that stocks any item I might want to buy. I have one pair of shoes, and it does me just fine, thank you.

Now... on the other hand, there's Vallco Fashion Park. It's in Cupertino, just a couple of miles from work, screened from the freeway by thick pine woods and a tasteful soundwall. The mall straddles Wolfe Road-- it's mostly on one level, with a first floor only at both ends of the mall, on either side of the street. It's very small, especially compared to Eastridge. Small, quaint, quirky.

And yet every time I've been in it, I've found exactly what I needed and left satisfied. There are all kinds of places to park-- street-level lots, a garage under the mall, a circumference road. There's a large video arcade at one end, in the cavelike first floor that only extends for a few stores before ending and forcing you upstairs, and right next to it is a candy stand with super-sour gumballs. Upstairs is a comic shop with Vertigo trade paperbacks a-plenty. Further along there are stores that specialize in chessboards, a big-windowed restaurant right over the middle of the street below, and a costume jewelry store with the best name I've ever seen: "C'est Faux". Then there's a Nature Company, a place to get alpaca blankets, during Christmas a free gift-wrapping station, and best of all, not a ^%$@&$ shoe store in sight.

I went into Vallco just yesterday after work to get a new 64MB Flash card for my camera, and a new battery. I went in the Sears side, where there was a map kiosk as soon as I came out into the mall interior. I didn't even need to look at it, though, because out of the myriad camera stores in the mall, one was staring me right in the face from across the entrance plaza: Ritz Camera. I go in, ask for the two items, find exactly the ones I'm looking for, and I'm out of there and on the road again in ten minutes.

I only wish I still lived in Santa Clara or Cupertino, so Vallco could be my local mall. Not San Jose, where I'm stuck with Eastridge. Maybe I should just walk there all the time and wear out some shoes.

22:33 - Freedom and Liberty and Boobs

Something that struck me while I was in Toronto: The US is pretty darn puritanical.

In Canada, as Hiker told me, they're allowed to show bare breasts on network TV as long as it's after 9PM. At midnight we flipped past a show that had something I'd honestly never seen before, even in R-rated movies: full frontal male nudity. "The Penis Puppeteers", or something like that. It was brought home immediately to me just how much we censor ourselves in the US-- it seems completely alien to us to see female nudity outside a movie or HBO, or male nudity under any circumstances. Why is this? Why do we claim to be the nation that has the most freedom on earth, and yet we whip out the flaming crosses if we see a bared nipple or if someone nearby smells of marijuana smoke?

If I were more cynical and Huxleyish, I'd say it's all part and parcel to the idea that what Americans crave is material freedom-- the right to have guns in the house in case the tanks start rolling through the streets-- while the freedom that Europeans and Canadians and Japanese enjoy is more the kind of stuff that keeps people happy but harmless. You know, soma for the mind-- pornography, drugs-- the things that keep people engrossed in their own worlds and unconcerned with issues like government trends and censorship. Americans will forego easy and legal access to weed and bare breasts on TV, if it means they get to keep their free speech and their guns. We'll even toy with prohibition of alcohol-- but we won't entertain the notion of mucking with the rights that we think really matter.

But that's really not what I think. These are just thoughts that came to my head on the way home tonight, and I thought they'd make for an interesting set of thought experiments for anyone who feels like testing whether they hold any water or not. I'm fully aware that anything I've said in the preceding paragraph can probably have more holes poked in it than all my combined readers have fingers. But that's really my point, I guess-- think about it. Disprove it, prove it, argue against it, argue for it. See what aspects of real life bear it out and which ones contradict it.

I know it's got me all blurry now, thinking about whether it's better to have the human liberty of Amsterdam, or the political liberty of Atlanta.

18:03 - Windows Moment of Zen


Well, I sure can't add anything to that, can you?

"Mile: approximately one mile in length."

16:34 - Oooo, legal precedent...

This was posted on February 7, but I've been meaning to link to it with a few thoughts. The gist of the article is that a court has ruled that it's legal for one site to post thumbnails of pictures hosted on another, unaffiliated site... but it's not legal to post the full-size pictures that are identical to what's hosted on the source site.

This is quite separate from questions of "deep linking" and bandwith leeching, which is an issue in itself. This case deals with presentation-- whether a site (like, say, a blog!) can link to copyrighted artwork on another site by presenting the full-blown content, or whether it has to be made into a thumbnail.

I've been feeling vaguely uneasy about my inline image uploader for just this reason. I have it so I can embed any picture from any site into an entry in my blog simply by putting <picture> into the body where I want it to go; it then prompts me for a file to upload or a URL of a picture on another site to download, and then it scales it if I say it should and applies the appropriate <IMG> parameters. The upshot is that the image is stored locally on my server, rather than relying on a remote URL, so it will always work no matter how the other site might reorganize.

But what if it turns out that this isn't legal? Whether or not I'm keeping a local copy, I have to make sure I scale down any pictures and make them links to the original site, instead of posting them inline at their full size. Comic strips are the best example of this that I can think of right off the bat.

Most of the time, when I link to a comic that I think is funny or noteworthy, I make it a thumbnail and a link to its home server. But on occasion I've simply linked in the full-size comic, with a link to the home server and appropriate credits-- but it's still presented full-size on this page. That's now been made explicitly illegal, and I'll have to be careful of that.

Where does the line get drawn? How much smaller does a picture have to be before it becomes considered a "thumbnail"? Does HTML scaling count, or does it have to be a genuinely resampled image?

I'm not complaining here-- far from it. If anything, I'm pleased to see that some legal bodies have enough understanding of how the Web works to be able to prosecute this case in accordance with the spirit of the Web-- that people want to be able to post their original content without fear that someone else will be able to redisplay the full-size images without going through the original content provider's site navigation and authentication checks and so on. But they do want others to be able to link through thumbnails-- they're visual and direct, and most importantly the reinforce through a layer of indirection that the original content is kept somewhere else, that the person with the thumbnail is not the originator of the content.

Now if only these same lawyers can tackle the issue of bandwidth poaching (sourcing images inline that are hosted on other sites, thereby causing the other sites' bandwidth to be siphoned off by users who aren't even viewing the other sites themselves). Forum avatar users, take heed...

13:03 - Why is Microsoft watching us watch DVD movies?

Good ol' Microsoft. The new Windows Media Player in Windows XP "phones home" with unique fingerprinting information every time you play a DVD, sending Microsoft information about the DVDs you watch and tying that information to your e-mail address and (if you're unfortunate enough to have signed up for one) your Passport account.

Y'know, everybody is concerned about the loss of civil liberties after 9/11, and how we're willing to accept some inconvenience and some loss of personal freedom in the name of public safety. But I think a much more pressing problem, one that is equally relevant and dangerous in a much shorter time-scale (some things do still move at Internet time, and the rise of an oppressive government isn't one of them), is that nobody seems to show any concern about the tightening grip Microsoft holds over the online world-- and how the whole phenomenon of digital spam and direct marketing is made all the easier and more legitimate with each new Microsoft thing that we decide to accept in our lives.

The Windows OS and the Web both reached the peak of their usefulness years ago. There have been no new features in either technology that have brought better ease-of-use, better security, better speed, or a genuine lifestyle revolution since the advent of ICQ, blogs, and Napster. The only new advancements in either context have been for the benefit of advertisers and direct marketers. Hardly a website exists nowadays that isn't plagued with banner ads. P2P file-sharing applications have embedded ads in them now, and everything in Windows now ties in through the ubiquitous web-browser substrate to direct all user activity to advertising streamed from MSN.

This is the "new computer revolution": the mass-media-fication of the thing on your desk with the keyboard.

This is the only area in which Microsoft is equipped to expand, in fact. It's the only untapped market where it's so hard to screw it up that they can succeed as well as they did with the shoddy Windows OS in the first place (its success is purely because they were able to get it to run on cheap, crappy, anonymous hardware). Spamming is easy, and Microsoft knows it. Their only challenge is in making it tasteful enough that the frogs who see it won't jump out of the saucepan, but will sit still for it until they're boiled alive.

Have we become such passive pansies that we will continue to suck up everything that flows out of Redmond? What will it take to get us to realize where this is all going, and to jump out before it's too late? How much more do we have to put up with before laws are passed that make UCITA and the DMCA look like parking regulations, and we're no longer allowed even to question where our personal data is going when Microsoft downloads it at will from our centrally-managed, rented, illegal-to-open-the-cover utilitarian computers?

That's where we will end up if nothing changes.
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
21:24 - Apple Retail Stores-- Everything but the whole "selling" part


A BusinessWeek article posted yesterday draws attention to how Apple's retail stores are getting a fantastic amount of traffic-- but that the people who comprise that traffic aren't actually buying product.

Why? Well, as John Manzione says in this article, it's because the people who man the stores are hired to be cool and engaging and talk about Macs-- but not to be "salespeople".

Now, it's all well and good to play the "Everything's fine as it is" card and defend current practices as you'll find in today's As the Apple Turns; sure, we don't want to have to picture being sold a Mac like we'd be sold a car. But c'mon... there comes a time when you gotta just hold your nose and jump in. Apple's boutique stores are expensive investments, and not only are they a dangerous liability if they don't turn up the flame on big-ticket purchases, but it's also unhelpful and negligent for them to let customers make their own (uninformed) decisions about what computers to buy based entirely upon what they're able to do with the machines sitting on display. The staffers can make sure the machines are in tip-top working order, yes, that's all to the good. That's the biggest thing the Apple Stores have going for them over the more workmanlike pure-sales outlets like Best Buy and the like, or the one-stop full sales-and-service centers like a local Apple Certified Reseller or Specialist. But Manzione's observations tell it all: when the only real big-ticket sales that occur happen because the buyer already knew what he wanted, and no helpful upselling is done to help the guy accessorize or even be sure to be fully equipped, that's not just sloppy sales technique-- that's cruising for a dissatisfied customer.

Maybe there is another phase of focus planned for the stores. Maybe they're thinking about hiring more for salesmanship in the future than for college-kid charisma. I think that would be just what we need, especially if we're going to be convincing people that these are machines that serious people use. You're spending thousands of dollars on a lifestyle choice when you buy a Mac. That's a decision perfectly comparable to buying a car, and as obnoxious as car salesmanship is, it does serve a worthwhile purpose-- and it keeps the sales offices in business.

I love the way Apple Stores feel. I hope it doesn't change much. But adding just one "closer" to the sales staff in each store would probably give them that extra percentage point they're so desperately aching for.

21:02 - Then again, there's stuff like this...

A lioness in Kenya has been... well, doing something that's going to cause rampant speculation from animal psychologists to theologists to vegetarians to Lion King fans the world over. She's been running around the preserve with a baby oryx in tow.

The lioness puzzled wildlife experts, game watchers and villagers in Samburu after it struck a friendship with an oryx calf, escorting and protecting it around the game reserve for 15 days.

Tourists and game workers had watched in disbelief as the lioness and the tottery brown baby oryx walk side by side and lay down to rest with all the intimacy of a mother and calf.

She even permitted the calf's mother to nurse the baby before resuming her guardianship. Experts believe the lioness had bonded with the calf after both had been abandoned by their own kind.

The calf was eventually attacked and killed by a male lion while the lioness was napping. She howled in mourning for hours afterward before vanishing into the bush for a time.

And now she's following more herds of oryx through the preserve, trying to continue doing the same thing.

I can just see the sitcom ideas. "Can't you see we're in love? Can't you accept our relationship for what it is?"

Naah, must just be all those waves of positive energy coming out of the palindromic day and stuff.

20:48 - 200220022002, or something

Yeahp-hh... it's that time again. Well, maybe not again, but it always feels like the same damn thing yet another time when we come up against some supposedly significant date or time. Tonight, in case you haven't heard, is 20:02, 20/02/2002-- a palindromic date/time.

Now, I'm the first to admit that having the HP workstations in the UGCS lab all simultaneously emit a squawking .au of "Pi Time!" to the lab stereo rig at exactly 3:14 in the morning is a whole lotta fun. I'll even get behind "Pi Time Texas Style" like we had one year, where at 3:00PM (see, Texas once legislated pi to be equal to 3) the whole hovse ate a variety of pies in the dining room. And I'll also acknowledge the importance of certain times that may present programmatic challenges, such as Y2K, 9/9/99, and S1G.

But when we have to go to such bizarre lengths as we're doing tonight to convince ourselves that there's some cosmic meaning to stupid numbers, I very rapidly run out of patience.

First of all, as should be very obvious, "20:02, 20/02/2002" is a very arbitrary designation for a particular date and time, and there are a dozen other ways of spelling it that are just as valid. The typical American arrangement for the date, for example, is 02/20/2002, and we don't usually use the 24-hour clock. Besides, what time zone is this supposed to apply to? And why do astrologers and numerologists and "palindromists" like the one in the article continue to insist that there is some correlation between how fast the earth spins in space (the time of day) and how fast the earth swings around the sun (the date)? To say nothing, naturally, of all the parts of the world that don't happen to go by our year-numbering scheme, even if they did accept that an arbitrary line drawn through Greenwich was somehow tied in to the cosmic ley lines and planets millions of miles away and had some profound effect on us in our daily lives.

"For two to three minutes there will be a massive surge of positive consciousness. It will be a moment to bring healing, a moment to bring peace," [Israeli psychic Uri Geller] said.

Asked how he would co-ordinate the meditations of his followers around the world, Geller said:

"I would appreciate everyone concentrating in GMT [Greenwich Mean Time], but if you can't do that, take a moment when you can ... The message is be positive, be optimistic and believe in yourself."

All right, fine, can't complain about those goals. But I just fine it dreadfully discouraging that we have to make up these kinds of stupid excuses before we can justify being positive and believing in ourselves. Yeah, on all those meaningless non-Greenwich-centered non-Gregorian non-European maybe-ordering-the-numbers-slightly-differently non-palindromic days, feel free to snarl at people and spend your days in despair and misery, because it'll all be made okay by the worldwide surge of positivity and peace when all the little LCD readouts on the cesium clocks line up in a certain magical way.

Hey, if it helps you, great. Go nuts. I'm not standing in anyone's way if they want to pretend that tonight all the world's nuclear warheads will mysteriously disarm themselves and al Qaeda's lurking sleepers will be struck with the unaccountable impression that they're really Zen Buddhist monks and that keeping the gravel in their rock gardens immaculately raked is more important than there being a McDonald's in Kabul. It'd be nice, yes. But you know, the sun don't care 'bout these things.

15:10 - Wish I had this to read in that Microec class...

Okay, who-all has a working understanding of game theory and the Prisoner's Dilemma? Let's see those hands. (And no fair if you've just seen A Beautiful Mind.) Oh, and how many can apply it to real-world situations, both personal and global?

Yeah, I didn't even have my own hand up. But den Beste sums it all up very concisely over at USS Clueless today, and explains how it all makes sense in contexts like drug dealing, World War II, and the Geneva Convention.

13:20 - O-ho-ho-foto!

A few days ago I ordered prints of the pictures I took up on Quimby Road last week. iPhoto's print ordering system goes through Ofoto, Kodak's online print service (I think they're a partnership or something), and the prices start at 49 cents for a 4x6-inch print, 99 cents for 5x7, and so on up, varying with the area of the print. (Actually the price goes up quite a bit faster than the area, now that I look at it... 4x6-inch prints are by far the best value.) It's more expensive than taking a film roll down to the drugstore (which is usually about 25 cents for 4x6), but I'm willing to pay a bit more for this kind of convenience. Want an extra set of prints mailed to my parents? Click. Want to order all sorts of different numbers of different sizes of every picture in your roll? Clickety. Want another set of prints made from photos you took six months ago? Ka-lick. Want to order two or three photos from each of the last ten batches of pictures you took? Klakow.

Besides, the mailer the photos come in is exceptionally nice-- as only Apple can package. The envelope inside has a window in front and a contact-sheet print. And the prints themselves? They look mahvelous-- even better than they look on-screen, in fact. I'm very impressed.

Before Kris told me that the print prices were actually higher than what you'd pay at the drugstore, I was really sort of wondering about how the economy of scale would work. Film prints are done in batches of 24 or 36, because that's how big a film roll is. Digital prints, though, can come in orders of one through God-knows-how-many. I wonder how many orders they'll get for batches of just three or four prints? The packaging can't be cheap; there's bound to be overhead, and the smaller the order, the more they're forced to suck up. (Then again, the shipping portion of the cost adds from $3 to $10, so people will have an incentive to consolidate orders.)

In any case, I like it-- I like it a lot. I think I'll be using this service quite a lot in the future.

I do have a film roll from Toronto that I need to get processed, though-- it's the photos that Hiker and I took from the CN Tower, including those great shots of us lying on the glass floor (whee!). So now that I know the name Ofoto, I figure they've got their act together for their film-processing service as much as for their digital-prints service. I'll give them a go. They send out a free film mailer with their "welcome" kit, and process the first roll free, so hey-- how wrong can I go?

And of course once I have the digital versions of these photos, they'll go into iPhoto and join my collection of pictures just waiting to be ordered for whoever wants 'em. (Hey, Mom-- this is what you've been waiting for all this time, huh?)
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
03:11 - Axes of Evil & Stuff

This was forwarded past my little bleeping humor scanners, and since I don't have a place to link to that has it, I'll just include it here in its entirety:

Bitter after being snubbed for membership in the "Axis of Evil," Libya, China, and Syria today announced they had formed the "Axis of Just as Evil," which they said would be way eviler than that stupid Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis President Bush warned of his State of the Union address.

Axis of Evil members, however, immediately dismissed the new axis as having, for starters, a really dumb name. "Right. They are Just as Evil... in their dreams!" declared North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

"Everybody knows we're the best evils... best at being evil... we're the best."

Diplomats from Syria denied they were jealous over being excluded, although they conceded they did ask if they could join the Axis of Evil. "They told us it was full," said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"An Axis can't have more than three countries," explained Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "This is not my rule, it's tradition. In World War II you had Germany, Italy, and Japan in the evil Axis. So you can only have three. And a secret handshake. Ours is wickedly cool."

International reaction to Bush's Axis of Evil declaration was swift, as within minutes, France surrendered.

Elsewhere, peer-conscious nations rushed to gain triumvirate status in what became a game of geopolitical chairs. Cuba, Sudan, and Serbia said they had formed the Axis of Somewhat Evil, forcing Somalia to join with Uganda and Myanmar in the Axis of Occasionally Evil, while Bulgaria, Indonesia and Russia established the Axis of Not So Much Evil Really As Just Generally Disagreeable.

With the criteria suddenly expanded and all the desirable clubs filling up, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, and Rwanda applied to be called the Axis of Countries That Aren't the Worst But Certainly Won't Be Asked to Host the Olympics; Canada, Mexico, and Australia formed the Axis of Nations That Are Actually Quite Nice But Secretly Have Nasty Thoughts About America, while Spain, Scotland, and New Zealand established the Axis of Countries That Be Allowed to Ask Sheep to Wear Lipstick. "That's not a threat, really, just something we like to do," said Scottish Executive First Minister Jack McConnell.

While wondering if the other nations of the world were serious, a cautious President Bush granted approval for most axis, although he rejected the establishment of the Axis of Countries Whose Names End in "Guay," accusing one of its members of filing a false application. Officials from Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chadguay denied the charges.

Italy, meanwhile, insisted it didn't want to join any axis, but privately,world leaders said that's only because no one asked them.

01:00 - Ouch.

Just one thing to comment on in this article:

Shares in Be rose 2 cents, or 20 percent, in Nasdaq trading.

Damn, that smarts. Good luck to 'em...

21:25 - Who's the Retard Now?

A column by Rob Long printed in Newsweek International, for the benefit of our overseas contemporaries, entitled "Letter From America: Putting Up With Dumb Americans". Hey, with a title like that, you can't not read it, right?

Well, what it turns out to be is the latest in the endless series of essais toward trying to make the American mind understood in such a way that we don't appear indignantly defensive, blindedly jingoistic, or horrifically ignorant. It's a more difficult job than we might think, considering all the ammunition we might call to hand (national achievements, prestige, vibrancy, yadda yadda); most of the time we're prey to our own imperfect abilities to communicate the ideas that are so crucial to the success of this endeavor.

Well, read the article, because that's specifically what it tackles. Not one of us is really capable of expressing the things that need to be expressed without coming across as fanatical in somebody's eyes. The most level-headed gun fancier can quote all the statistics he likes, but listeners who are combing his words for an excuse to whip out the labelmaker and plaster "Redneck" across his forehead are guaranteed to find something.

Bloggers are especially vulnerable to this trouble by the instant nature of their commentary. When Lileks or den Beste or Reynolds posts an opinion on a development hours after it happens, it isn't going to be as well-thought-out or as well-researched as an op-ed written two days or two weeks after the fact. So there's more volatility in the blog world than there ever was before the national stream of consciousness became something into which we all assimilated ourselves. There's more opportunity for us to come across as brainwashed sheep or dangerous fanatics or insulting boors than if we had the time to sit down and wrap everything with rationale and precendent.

The article isn't an apology for clumsy Yank communicators as much as it is a somewhat snide, self-serving way for us to think of ourselves as "Right all along whether other people realize it or not"; but it still contains some interesting thoughts and some points which bear discussion. At the very least, it does say something about human nature: we crave simplicity, and a privileged culture will design for itself the most simplistic world possible. When we find ourselves with more to say than we're equipped to convey, it speaks more about our relative success and subsequent satisfaction than about our inherent inability to comprehend why we even do what we do. It all just feels too natural for us to be able to explain it.

In any case, I'm rather impressed by the author's cavalier use of the word "retard" in such a widely-read publication. Fifteen years ago such a word was taboo beyond measure on the schoolyard; now it's made a pop-culture comeback, and the meaning hasn't really even been altered. It's gutsy, but oddly refreshing.

20:53 - Drake strikes another smashing blow for the Queen

Just too surreal to pass up.

I find it weirdly comforting that things still happen that we can chortle about in the context of long-dead national rivalries and centuries-old naval warfare traditions. Even to be able to have a military exercise of this size go awry, only to have the nations involved simply shuffle their feet and try to keep from laughing, is a welcome feeling today. I can just see the British and Spanish heads of state meeting tonight in some heavily-guarded anteroom deep in the presidential palace of an impartial nation... sharing a bottle of gin and laughing their asses off.

17:39 - Take this, Dean Kamen...

So you thought the Segway was cool, huh? Well, say hello to the Megway.

It's probably cheaper.
Monday, February 18, 2002
01:02 - Y'know, it's good to be versatile...

You ever notice how in Canadian bilingual announcements, the French voice is always female and the English voice is always male?

I'll bet all kinds of psychological and philosophical conclusions and speculations can be derived from this, about gender roles and societal norms and cultural significance in a world context-- but not by me.

At any rate, the leg of the flight from Toronto to Chicago (hi, Marcus-- no AirPort in O'Hare, dagnabbit!) was an actual Air Canada flight, not merely a United flight where everyone mentions Air Canada a lot. So we had all the bilingual signage, a last fond reminder of Canada on the way home.

I always find myself noticing, though, that French is getting harder and harder to keep in sync with the English content. I can understand enough written French to get the gist of a piece of text and know what it says and what it doesn't say, and while reading the in-flight magazine, enRoute, quite apart from the fact that it has half the content of most such magazines with the same number of pages, I noticed a number of interesting little omissions and translational stumbling blocks. A story in English that talks about "putting shrimp on the barbie" (with reference to a Barbie doll surrounded by shrimp in a particular surrealistic dish) converts to French in the form of "barbiecue", which is cute, but misses out on the majority of the historical and international punnage that leads to the joke's existence in the first place. In another place, the English version of a story talks about how "Since the tragic events of September 2001, people have been turning more toward the comforts of the kitchen"... but in French, September 2001 is never mentioned. I can only begin to speculate why.

There are always space concerns. One only has to look as far as the seat in front of you to see how the relative word bloat of French ends up impoverishing the meaning of what is written in it: "Life vest under front of your seat" translates to "Gilet de sauvetage sous votre siège", which doesn't specify the front of the seat. The versatility of English allows for concise constructs like "life vest", whereas French finds itself groaning under the weight of its rules. "Prière de garder les ceintures bouclées," the sign continues-- trying gamely to absorb a useful word like "buckle", but finding it unwieldy under French phonetics.

French and Spanish both make no distinction between "security" and "safety", a shortcoming that seems rather silly in this day and age. The two languages both use the same word for both concepts-- securité and seguridad, respectively. It's hard to argue that there's no difference between the words. But as I said in an earlier blog, the shades of meaning available in English (where there's a meaningful difference between "after" and "following" and "in the wake of"), while daunting to those first learning the language, make for a lot less potential confusion. When there are lots of synonyms for a concept, and any one of the possible words will hit near the speaker's intended mark, it's much easier to make oneself understood in such a language than in any of the nightmare circumstances of American tourists in Europe fishing desperately for the right word-- the lone, single possible right word-- to express a thought in the Romance language of the region.

English isn't the prettiest language on the planet, not by a long shot-- particularly not the way Americans speak it. But as a tool that can drive just about any bizarrely-shaped screw on the workbench, there's never been anything like it. Nor is there likely to be.

And since English, like Perl, encompasses parts of the vocabulary and even the syntax of many of the foreign languages that have been agglomerated into it, I can think of worse fates for the languages of the world... at least in airports.

UPDATE: Matt Robinson informs me that "buckle" actually comes from the French word. Okay, okay-- I admit I didn't do the etymological research to make sure the example I had to hand was a good one. But the fact is that I could name a dozen others off the top of my head: cederóm, for instance, the word for "CD-ROM", or the weirdness of seeing "kitch" in a French sentence, as it was in another article in the same magazine (to say nothing of "sandwich"). And when the best translation they can do for a column called "Counter Culture" is "Le Challenge du Chef"... :)

01:01 - I... have a problem...

Okay, so here I am, blogging on the plane on the way home from Toronto. I knew this thing would become a habit. Ah, but at least I'll bet Hiker is beating me to the bloggin' table anyway-- he's got a little less far to go before he reaches a net connection.

Anyway, I'm back in US airspace now. Customs on the outgoing side from Pearson Airport was very busy-- the writhing lines of people waiting to see customs officials wound back and forth eight times across the sizable floor. You get to fill out the customs declaration form while in line, but they don't provide any pens or writing surfaces unless you get out of line-- so there's a lot of borrowing of writing implements and people kneeling on the floor to write. One would think this is a prime candidate for a move to electronic input-- they've got very slick automated checkin kiosks these days (always very seamless at Pearson-- swipe your card, press a button, and out pop your tickets); why not let international travelers walk by a kiosk, tap in a few responses to questions, and have it pass the form through electronically?

The Customs official gave me reason to remember the encounter. He was a brusque, straightforward type, with a crisp, clean-cut, mid-20s Ben Affleck sort of look about him. I handed over my passport, kiosk-issued boarding pass, and floor-etched declaration card.

"What'sYourCountryOfCitizenship?" he barks, staccato, almost accusingly.
"USA," I reply.
"San Jose."
"Visiting a friend," I say as matter-of-factly as possible.
This startled me, but I kept my feet. "The ballet? No," I return as levelly as I can.
"AllRight,ThankYou!" He waves me through. I glance back at him, eyebrow raised, corner of my mouth quirked slightly. He's got the same weird, conspiriatorial smile and eye-gleam-- just for the briefest of seconds before he turns his attention to the next person in line.

The ballet, eh? I either just got profiled extremely efficiently, or cruised in the absolute least likely of places. Either way, I'm not exactly the most reassured that I've ever been.

Anyway, once through the customs gate, it's effectively US territory all the way to the gate, and down the jetway onto the plane; so now that I'm on my way down into Chicago, there to switch planes and ride the currents following the sunset back home to San Jose, I can feel my metabolism already spinning up its flywheel again as it always does when I come home from Canada. (Last time, in August, I got to Gate T before I suddenly realized I was so hungry that I ate four consecutive bags of chips from the vending machine.) So before the rush hits, I'll use this space (it's as good as any, right?) to thank Hiker, Tony, Steve, Torrle, and the rest of the Toronto gang for a helluva fun weekend. You guys all rule.

Even if you did get me liking Digimon. Damn you all to hell for that.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
11:07 - Gonna be sparse around here for a few days...

I'm going to be in Toronto for the weekend, so don't expect there to be much in the way of bloggage here until Monday night.

I must say, though, that the airport today was the least backed-up that I've ever seen it. Not only was there no three-hour line for the X-ray machines, there was no line. At all.

So now I've got two hours to sit and read fragments of newspapers. Er-- wait! I have The Net! All hail Wayport!

10:58 - Oh that's right, everything is a web page now!

Someone on Slashdot has posted the source for a Windows Instant Messenger virus that's been running around the net.

... Instant messenger virus? Hmm... this code looks like... HTML and VBScript. Almost as if... as if... the Instant Messenger thing parsed HTML and VBScript.

But of course it does. Just like everything else in Windows, the Instant Messenger is just another modified IE window. Meaning, just off the top of my head, that people can send you messages out of the blue containing code that will execute as though opened voluntarily in a browser window.

Do I have to explain how monumentally stupid this is?

Instant Messenger clients have pretty much standardized. They have a certain feature set and nothing more. The text window is for TEXT, not for formatted HTML and JavaScript and popup ads and what-have-you. This is exactly the kind of "Oh, let's add features because it's easy, regardless of risks they might introduce" thinking that has pervaded Microsoft for the past seven years. Allowing IE to open BMP images. Putting lots of half-assed checkbox features and pretty colors into Pocket PC. Making everything in the OS into a web page and every application into a browser.

Some have talked about software developers needing to be licensed. If they were, I doubt many people at Microsoft would pass the exam.
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
01:40 - He may like the Xbox, but at least he thinks like me...

A couple of days ago, James Lileks expressed dismay over the fact that modern driving simulators are lavishly rendered and geographically accurate, but you don't get to enjoy any of it because you're too busy racing.

I want a relaxing driving game. I want to start in New York and end up on the Santa Monica pier, and I want to stop at motels, watch local TV, step outside and hear the crickets before I go to bed. Flight sims give you this sense of real-time ordinary life; why not driving games?

Bingo. This goes right to the heart of what my fantasy has been for years and years: a driving simulator where you can just travel freely on any road, going wherever you want to go, exploring the entire world-- the same kind of thing you could do in real life if not for the realities of having to buy gas, pay for hotels, take time off work, deal with car trouble, get pulled over for speeding in strange states, and so on.

It's getting to the point where that's possible, if not inevitable. Flight simulators now map very crisp satellite imagery onto selected regions of the world; it'll only be a matter of time before everybody has enough disk space (if the map detail is kept locally) or bandwidth (if it's streamed from a server on demand) for the entire world to be mapped, and you can explore any area you feel like without the terrain expanding into big flat bitmap chunks as you land or suddenly giving way to generic "filler" terrain. That's coming, and it's only a couple of years away.

Likewise, and this is only likely to be a little further off, a driving simulator could map all the roads in the country-- terrain and elevations and vegetation would have to be modelled a lot more finely, but it's doable-- and buildings and bridges and mailboxes and retaining walls and other cars could all be modelled fairly simply.

The barriers standing in the way of doing that today, or with any given level of technology, is simply a matter of storage space and CPU power and RAM availability and bandwidth, and those things will all increase with time. But there's a slightly more annoying problem, too: national security.

Flight simulators like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Fly! are apparently barred from going into more detail with their terrain maps than GPS units are allowed to display, because of the possibility that such detailed locating mechanisms could be used for targeting in, oh, a terrorist attack involving a guided missile. Legal regulations limit the precision of GPS devices (as used in cars and hiking gear) for precisely that reason, and so presumably any further detail to which sim games might go will be hampered by this little issue.

Unless, of course, all the roads and map elements are given a certain, imperceptible amount of mapping jitter... just take the map layout, apply a grid to it, and do a very slight deformation to all the points on it, warping the map to fit. That way the location data would be useless for anything real. This would be less feasible for flight sims than for driving sims, but not insurmountable. Even the tiniest of warpings to the map would put the uncertainty of the accuracy of any given point well into the hundreds-of-feet range, which is comfortably beyond the feds' limits of discomfort.

So, yeah-- don't worry, James. It's coming. Yeah, I was disappointed as hell to find that 4x4 Evo denied you the pleasure of just driving around in beautifully-rendered mountains exploring in favor of reckless racing; but one day it will all be here-- the game where you get to drive to Santa Monica, the game where you get to fly to Great Slave Lake, the game where you get to walk around town and talk to storekeepers. That's the future of gaming that I'd like to be able to enjoy.

23:18 - Okay, that was a rather surreal little scene...

I was in Taco Bell waiting for my food. As I stood there, a girl came in the side door carrying two Round Table Pizza boxes (there's a Round Table across the intersection). She passes the pizzas over the counter, and the Taco Bell guy hands her a bag full of tacos. They exchange brief pleasantries, and she leaves.

I had to blink a few times. No money exchanged hands-- just food. It was like the barter system! "Do this often?" I wanted to pointlessly ask.

Makes me wonder what the world would be like if the only possible businesses were restaurants-- like we'd passed the Shoe Event Horizon, only with food. People would make food, exchange food with each other, buy things with food... hey, it's like the Martians from War of the Worlds who don't bother with food because they just suck out the blood from their victims and thereby bypass all that tedious digestion stuff. Hey, we've already taken the first step-- and I saw it, right here, tonight!

C'mon, everybody: Shut up, Brian!

21:10 - It's not going to get any better, folks...

Goodie, another security vulnerability in Passport and Hotmail.

In this instance, however, the keys to the exploit are actually hidden within the source code for the Hotmail login page. The code, visible to anyone knowledgeable enough to select "View Source" from the menu of their Web browser, reveals a "hidden" field that -- when populated with the desired username, saved as an HTML file and executed in a Web browser -- produces the targeted user's "secret question."

"Cisco Kid" -- the nickname for the hacker who helped to develop the exploit, said Microsoft simply has no good explanation for leaving something so central to authentication in plain text.

One would think, "Gee, XP has been released, Passport is in use, and all this centralized user-management and privacy and authentication stuff is surely all figured out and bulletproof by now, isn't it?"

Well, guess what: it isn't. It's not getting any better. Every time some new Microsoft service comes out, there's a whole series of security exploits in it just waiting to be discovered. They're never going to "get it right". It's just not going to happen. If you're waiting for them to amass enough knowledge and expertise not to make stupid mistakes like embedding cleartext challenge data in the page source at Hotmail, you may as well wait until the heat-death of the universe before using Passport or .NET, like I'm doing.

21:00 - Imagine if you will: A world without chocolate...

Hiker blogs about a worldwide cocoa shortage (the horror!):

The space at the grocery checkout reserved for candy bars will be a void, and the void could be filled by anything... like more tabloids! And more tabloids leads to more rumors about celebrities, which leads to massive trouble for Hollywood. The lawsuits and bad blood would destroy the entertainment industry. All because you can't get a KitKat.

Hmm... you know, "Tabloids" actually sounds like a decent candy...

But I don't think there are any two English words more horrifying than the last two words in his post.

12:59 - EU wants to regulate orchestras' noise levels

Have you ever wondered what America would be like if the Teamsters and AFL/CIO ran the government? Well, you need wonder no more.

The directive has already been agreed by Britain and other EU member states and will receive a second reading in parliament later this month.

The parliament wants to reduce the decibel limit of noise in the workplace to 83, the point at which workers have to wear hearing protection.

A single trumpet is said to play up to 130 decibels and the ABO fears that the directive would effectively silence performances.

Libby MacNamara, director of the ABO, told BBC News Online: "It will stop us playing any loud music whatsoever, affecting almost of all of the pieces played by orchestras."

Well, they've certainly succeeded in making me speechless.

11:30 - Yeah, I knew the old fart was cool...

Greg Kihn, the aging rocker who does the morning show on KFOX (San Jose's classic rock station), just took a few minutes in one of the little interstitial monologues to talk about how his son Ry just got himself an almost-new G4/733 from eBay (for about $1100) and the necessary software to outfit himself with a digital recording studio and start recording tracks like Jars of Clay does.

Greg then went on to mention how he has one of the original iMacs-- "Back then it was the fastest thing in town, and now it's the slowest thing in town"-- and said he's probably going to be getting one of the new iMacs later this week. I oughtta keep my ears pricked up.

(In the next interstitial he mentioned how Apple used to give the station new equipment to review and talk about on the air-- but those days seem to be gone.)

Now if only KFOX would provide their online stream in something other than Windows Media. Grrr...
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
02:11 - Dunno if Britney'll like that, though...

I seem to have oversimplified a bit in my blue-sky blatherings on software and music piracy-- specifically, in trying to lump music and software piracy into the same bucket. This really doesn't fly as much as I'd hoped it would, as USS Clueless points out in a direct response (wow, a first for this young blog!).

I find myself trying to apply the same kinds of standards to the question of pirating music and pirating software; it's not staying put in my brain. I can't keep the argument steady. Some days it seems that exactly the same rules apply to the two industries, and other days I find myself trying to write about them in the same paragraph and failing to complete sentences in the same hour that I begin them.

But as den Beste points out, the two industries are on very different footings already; the software industry is still new, and they've never sold anything that couldn't be copied by users and hence manufactured without raw materials. The music industry started out in a publishing metaphor, under the assumption that consumers wouldn't be able to make free copies-- and then had to adjust to such developments as they came along.

So, okay, the software industry gets to price products into the hundreds and thousands of dollars, primarily deriving those price points from the large-scale corporate installations that account for their actual, measurable market share, rather than from how much Joe Hotmail is willing to pay for a copy of Photoshop before he gives up and grabs a cracked copy. This has been pointed out to me by numerous people-- the software world takes piracy into account in their business models, and pretty much always has.

Whereas music keeps getting sold for $15 a CD, of which less than a dollar might end up going to the artist. I refer to the Courtney Love article at Salon for an entertaining first-hand view of the subject, biased though it might be.

Software engineers don't tend to need, want, or expect to be compensated in the same way as Courtney Love has been.

So, yeah, music might benefit from being sold as a "perishable" item, like a magazine-- after all, Newsweek doesn't care if you Xerox it, and they put all their content online anyway. It's all ad-driven revenue. That's what all solutions seem to come back to: ad revenue. But let's extend the metaphor (I'm not actually trying to make a point here, just exploring the thought): Music could be published in online "albums", without much regard for digital rights or anything in the music stream itself-- plain old MP3s (or a clearly superior successor) would do. But the online "album" would be a website-- full of information on the band, biographies, reviews of the music, artwork, lyrics, message boards... in other words, the evolution of what currently passes for album art.

Are there ways to encourage people to buy original albums instead of doing downloads? Sure. Ironically, one of the best was lost in the transition from LP to CD: album art. There still is album art, but it isn't possible to do it well in 25 square inches. The old 12" album, especially if it had foldouts or multiple pages, could carry a lot of excess material over and above the material on the record itself. Two examples from the golden age of album art: Thick as a Brick, and Yessongs. But there may be other ways, such as holograms on the CDs.

Hey, screw the physical media-- let the imagination run wild here. A definitive web album for the music-- run by the record companies and with content produced by the band, and containing ads for revenue and possibly "pro" features (cool interactive games or streaming movies, for instance) to collect more fees, the fees currently realized by magazines in the form of subscriptions-- which has the music itself in the definitive, downloadable form. Sure, you could download the songs and then P2P them to each other. But why bother, if it's freely available right from the source, with so much value-added digital material available right there? I think fans would flock to the sites if they were definitive. A bare MP3 without all the attendant features would feel like a 2nd-generation copy of a movie taped off TV with commercials versus a DVD.

Are record companies currently padding their prices on the assumption that some CDs are going to suck, or be 14 tracks of crap and one hit, so they can count on getting the full price even from someone who just wants the one hit? Are most artists afraid of their own filler material, as Courtney accuses? If so, then a model where music is available in unfettered digital format online where people can pick-n-choose what they want to hear might indeed encourage artists who rely on filler to sort of fade away. But then, is that a bad thing? Probably not, except the big question that remains is one of numbers. How much would the loss of all that filler hit the labels? How much advertising would be necessary in order to make up for lost CD sales? How much money could they save by not having to make and distribute so many CDs? Is there an equilibrium among these variables? I suspect there is, but it isn't going to be at a point where the current number of active artists or the current market caps of the record labels would be able to remain the same. Those figures would have to change. A lot.

But now, the more I think about it, the cooler this seems. People do want to have their materials from a "definitive" source. They like feeling like they're getting the real thing, not a copy of a copy of a copy (even in digital media, it's still an uphill battle finding an MP3 that's free of encoding glitches or an MPEG where the quality is tolerable and the little end-pieces and bugs that get tacked on by the people who do the encoding aren't too obnoxious). The world of P2P is hardly one where pristine media is ubiquitous. Far, far from it.

I do have a lot of MP3 files-- about 90% of them are ripped from CDs I own, and almost all the rest are from friends I already knew rather than faceless Gnutella sources. I'm not exactly a typical example, I realize. But the problem with audio piracy is founded in the whole "high-volume copying" thing; making one or two copies to share with friends is noise, but putting it online for a million people to download is a big statistic. So I guess the way the industry needs to change is by looking at what people find compelling about P2P sharing, improving on that experience, and providing the same service for free and with better value-adds. Advertising is a small price for the consumers to pay for online albums... and we'd still be able to fill our iPods to our heart's content.

Let's just hope those numbers work out, eh?

(Oh, and by the way-- the aspersions in my previous post on this topic that I cast upon people making up excuses and justifications for piracy-- I wasn't aiming those at den Beste, but at the general atmosphere and mentality that I'd been picking up and responding to in earlier messages. No commentary on the ethicality of what den Beste suggests was intended.)

13:52 - iLuxo Has Arrived!


The long-awaited Pixar iMac ads are up-- and they're quite funny indeed, as is anything Pixar makes. There are two of them-- one 15 seconds long, which should be called "Navel Contemplation"... and the other, 30 seconds long, which has the iMac shakin' its thang to a degree that only Lasseter could have envisioned.

The model doesn't even squash-n-stretch much, if at all; it's really a great example of why Pixar is the leader when it comes to CG animation and bringing just about anything to life. When 2D animators go for jobs at Disney, they're tested on their ability to animate a sack of flour in classic Frank & Ollie fashion. In 3D, the gold standard is Luxo Jr.

What's especially funny is how the little R2D2-like bleeps and chirps the iMac emits are so much like those in the Luxo shorts-- only different, like the iMac is Luxo's long-lost dot-com millionaire cousin. I'm glad they're playing up the resemblance in just the way I thought they might; people can't make fun of its lamplike shape if even Apple touts it as being related to a lamp, right? Besides, it's too cute to hate.

12:07 - Okay, that I like...

Apparently someone in the press asked the captain of the U.S. luge team what his strategy was. He said, "Lie flat, and try not to die."

05:24 - Aaaaaahhh! Take cover!

...Okay, so the powerful, penetrating wave of crackles and booms that swept over the Valley from about 11:55 to 12:30 were the fireworks from the Chinese New Year tickover-- it's really amazing hearing how much more lively this is than on December 31. Perhaps "lively" isn't even the right word-- maybe "apocalyptic" is closer to the mark. It was loud... and all that just from ground-level type firecrackers.

After I realized what it was (Homecoming? Terrorist attack? Oh wait, it's midnight and February!), it was really fun to listen to. Oddly reassuring to know that there are so many people living in San Jose having such a good time with the occasion. Happy New Year to all of those folks.

Homer sleep now....
Monday, February 11, 2002
21:27 - Piracy-- a different tactic

This one's from USS Clueless; den Beste notes that the software and music industries are starting to rethink their strategies in order to exist in an environment where it is assumed that piracy will happen, rather than to simply try to keep people from doing it.

I just have one question, though: Doesn't that amount to the companies condoning piracy? And if so, why should anyone pay for software? If the companies are effectively giving away their software and music (which is what they'd be doing, if they don't try to enforce IP rights), what incentive is there for anyone to buy the genuine article?

As long as music can be reduced to audio, it can be redigitized and converted into an unprotected MP3 which can be distributed online. No amount of digital protection can prevent that. So far most pirated music is digitally converted mostly because that is still easy. But if it is made impossible technologically, an analog redigitization won't be enough worse in quality to affect this. And any computer with a sound card sold in the last ten years is capable of doing this.

The music industry must go through a psychology change. The problem now is that they see pirated copies as representing lost revenue. They count up each copy as one they were not paid for.

The customers don't view it that way. To the customers when they buy the material, they also think of themselves as buying the ability to make some copies of it. They want to be able to play in on their stereo, but they also want to be able to make compilations of the music in the order they like, and they want to be able to copy their favorite tracks or even whole albums onto portable players. This is not viewed by the customers as being piracy; it's considered a value-add for the product itself. It is part of what they think they are buying.

As long as the industry doesn't see it from that point of view, they will continue to try to fight the future. No industry can ultimately survive if it thinks of its customers as enemies; ultimately the industry has to adopt the point of view of its customers and cater to their desires.

You cannot sell someone what you want them to have. You have to sell them what they want to buy.

This genie first escaped with the first "product" that could be manufactured effectively for free, by the end user: digital data. It plays by different rules than physical objects which have to be manufactured by the company that invented them, for a certain cost, using certain processes. Certainly it's reasonable to suggest that we need entirely new laws to handle this kind of monkey-wrench thrown into Adam Smith's beautiful but second-millennium model of economics. But we're still left without any guidance as to what those new rules might be.

The industry has to start thinking of the glass as half full. The copies stolen are not lost revenue; what they are is copies of ones where were bought. If the pirated copies did not exist then the purchased ones would not have been sold. The pirated copies are actually an indirect source of revenue.

I get the feeling that there's a valuable and important point in here somewhere, but it seems to have gotten garbled somehow. Pity.

There is no technical or technological solution to this, and also no legal one. When 50 million people break a law, it is the law itself which is suspect.

Okay, fair enough. But if the solution is for the music and software industries to 'create its own equivalent of "cable TV"'-- to stop being old-school, ultra-conservative content vendors and become innovators in content delivery to a degree that hackers can't match, then it's effectively suggesting that the music and software industries will have to be completely torn down and replaced with something so different as to be unrecognizable. Pay-for-play (or tip-for-play) Napster? Ads embedded in Word? If the product is free, the only way for the producers to make any money is through the consumers' good will-- and I don't think any consumers will be willing to cough up thousands of dollars to support the development of software like Final Cut Pro or Maya. And can you imagine corporate enterprises with budget line-items looking like this:

"Corporate rollout, Photoshop; 1270 installations; total voluntary donation: $1,000,000"

Maybe the model of paying individually for pieces of software is all wrong. Maybe what we need is a model whereby companies develop software under government contract, provide it ubiquitously, and collect payment from the government in the form of taxes, or public utility bills. That's how we get our freeways and our sewer systems. It's that way because only the government is equipped to provide those things, and because you can't very well steal something that's ubiquitous, can you? It provides the fulfillment of the people's need so that nobody has to build their own roads or dig their own sewage ditches, because it's all handled for them better than they could handle it themselves.

Radio is a "utility" that nobody steals for the same reason. It's ubiquitous, and the costs for it are hidden in advertising. The key to stopping music piracy is to provide the equivalent of radio-- an always-on, at-the-fingertips source of on-demand music and media that can be received anywhere and without any explicit payment. This can be done; things were this weird at the beginning of radio, and they'll have to do the same kind of feverish standardization and technological development that they did back then. The question is whether the companies will be willing-- or able-- to be disbanded or restructured as appropriate to achieve these goals.

Until that's ready, though, the laws are the best they can be according to the current rules. Declaring a New World Order and saying that the old rules don't apply is not an excuse for breaking current laws. Yes, a revolution is coming, but don't go guillotining patricians just yet. You may be glad of the bargaining power you'll retain if the companies don't have to see you as such an enemy.

And for God's sake, let's lose the ludicrous after-the-fact justifications for piracy, huh? If you're going to break current IP laws, at least own up to it and show some good faith that you would pay for the software if you had the means. Don't make up stuff about how piracy is really what makes the world go 'round, and how people are all really entitled to having everything for free, and blah blah blah. "Suffering needlessly"-- Jesus Christ.

At any rate, it'd sure be nice to see WMA and SDMI completely fail and MP3 remain popular, wouldn't it?

18:42 - I saw this, and immediately thought of you...

A large quantity of fossilized dinosaur vomit has been discovered in England.

A co-worker of mine apparently received 11 e-mails from friends pointing him toward this URL within about half an hour; he's rather dismayed that "fossilized dinosaur vomit" made so many of his friends instantly think of him.

18:29 - Moment of Zen


PowerMate: The Ultimate Assignable Controller

The PowerMate has a beautiful polished aluminum finish and an amazing feel. The brilliant blue LEDs give it a floating futuristic appearance. And the glowing base dims and brightens to reflect the volume level of your computer. And we did not stop there. We included all of the small things that customers have come to expect from us including a pulsating base when your computer is asleep and adjustable brightness level of the glowing base.

Yes, but... it's... it's a knob.

Or am I missing something crucially important?

14:11 - Another for the MS Outbreak Files

It has been a constant source of amazement to me that people are still willing to use Microsoft Outlook, even after exploit after exploit and vulnerability after vulnerability are revealed along with completely stupid workarounds or solutions from Microsoft. People just keep absorbing the risks and inconvenience, and then they're surprised when they get viruses or stealth ad-ware trojans.

This new revelation, posted by Bear Giles to the comp.risks newsgroup, is so good I have to simply quote it in its entirety.

Yet another Microsoft Outlook exploit is on the loose... and this time the arrogance of the recommended solution is breathtaking. The problem is the built-in support for UUENCODED text within the body of a message. Prudent programmers will use a starting pattern such as

"\n\nbegin ([[:octal:]]+) ([^\n]+)\n"

and subsequently verify that each line has the expected format. Even checking only the first few lines (e.g., verifying that the first character correctly encodes the length of the rest of the line) essentially eliminates any chance of a false hit.

Sadly, it will surprise few people that Microsoft cuts straight to the heart of the matter. If your line starts with "begin " (possibly with two spaces), Outlook/Outlook Express WILL interpret the rest of the message as a UUENCODED attachment. It doesn't need a preceding blank line, nor a following octal number. It doesn't need subsequent lines that actually look like UUENCODED data.

There are some reports on slashdot that later versions of O/OE have discarded the "view source" command, with the effect that the rest of the message is permanently lost to the user. The use of this bug as a DOS attack on mailing lists that use a 'digest' approach is left as an exercisefor the reader.

Naturally, it hasn't taken long for the malware writers to jump on the bandwagon. All you need to do to get around the "strip executable attachment" killjoys is to put the malware right in the body of the message! Just start a line with "begin 666 www.myparty.yahoo.com" and you're off and running!

Microsoft's official position, at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;q265230 , is stunning in it's feeble-mindedness simplicity. We, and by "we" I mean every person on the planet who may ever send a message to an O/OE victim user, or have a message forwarded to such users, are advised (with editorial comments) to:

* not start messages with the word "begin"

(actually, it's *any* line starting with the word "begin". And that's effectively a ban on the word "begin" for anyone using a mail agent with transparent line wrapping, e.g., the web mail portals that some ISPs are pushing.)

* capitalize the word "begin," even when used within a sentence. E.g., "We will Begin the new project when Bob returns from his vacation."

* Use a different word such as "start" or "commence." E.g., all training materials for new Visual Basic programmers shall henceforce refer to "start/end" loops instead of "begin/end" loops.

Microsoft's justification for suggesting a significant change to the English language instead of fixing their bug is given as:

"In a SMTP e-mail message, a file attachment that is encoded in UUencode format is defined when the word "begin" is followed by two spaces and then some data,..."

Needless to say there is no citation given for this "fact." That's probably related to the fact that UUENCODE was defined by UUCP, not SMTP, and that every encoder/decoder I have seen requires a leading blank line and a octal file permissions code.

But the damage is done - since malware is exploiting this bug we now get to put into place filters that don't just strip executable attachments or properly formatted UUENCODED blocks, we also have to strip *improperly* formatted UUENCODED blocks!

Bear Giles

Got that? Because of a bug in Microsoft's software, the entire English-speaking world-- not just people using Outbreak, but anybody who might send messages to anybody using Outbreak-- are supposed to avoid using the word "begin". We're supposed to change our use of language to accommodate this stupid software and its bugs.

What will it take? I've been asking myself this for the past four years-- What will it take for people to realize that Outlook is quite possibly the worst piece of network-capable software ever written, and that just because it comes for free on your computer does not mean that you have to use it?

But no, the world is content with things as they are. People would rather have a really horrible, shoddy, inconvenient, insecure product for free or cheap than to pay a little more for a product of much higher quality. This is why Microsoft has won: they realize that the key to sales is price, price, price, at the expense of quality, speed, security, convenience, ease-of-use-- everything. Just price it low enough (better yet, give it away free) and nobody will listen to a word the competition has to say.

Just wait until there is no more competition, and then you get to charge whatever you want.
Sunday, February 10, 2002
14:33 - Another Olympic Perspective

This one is from David Carr on Samizdata:

Short of that I think I'll pass because former footsoldiers of the East German secret police dressed in sequin jumpsuits and doing triple-salkos is the very antithesis of my idea of entertainment and is it just me or is there something disturbingly reminiscent of the Nuremburg Rallies in those torchlit opening ceremonies? For sure the sight of all those glowing hopefuls being paraded around in their humiliating 'national costumes' with a 'Strength-Through-Joy' grin on their faces has a jumper-over-the-head factor of about 50. Those about to die of embarrassment, salute you!

I suppose it would be extravagantly churlish of me not to mention the transformation of Olympic events from taxpayer boondoggle to corporate sponsor-fest which, at least, has put a stop to the bankrupting of cities in which the spandex-circus was unfortunate enough to land. In those days they were not so much athletes as locusts in lycra, devastating a whole landscape before buggering off and leaving behind grand white-elephant stadia like monuments of a long lost race.

But corporatisation has had the unfortunate side-effect of morphing the games from dull and condescending expressions of post-war aspiration to multi-culti clappy-happy jamborees in which we are all supposed to enthusiastically join in North Korean style.

I suppose this one's noteworthy because it takes a about as dim a view of the Olympic ideal as I do of football, though of course this one is better written than my football rant was. Still, I don't find the Olympics quite as objectionable as football, if only because without them, most Americans wouldn't know that other countries existed.

That's another fun point: The only way in which most Americans see other countries as meaningful is when they're treated as sports teams.

"Yeah, man, I'd like to see Russia go up against the Sharks!" Am I the only one who sees just how ridiculous is the concept underlying that statement? And yet we hear it all the time during the Olympics.

Good thing? Bad thing? I'm not prepared to say.

14:24 - Cat Haiku - a chestnut for us all

This is only one URL of thousands for this same list of Cat Haiku... it's been traveling the Internet for some time, but it deserves to have attention drawn back to it on occasion. Especially for readers such as Hiker and my parents who will undoubtedly find it riotously satisfying.

The rule for today.
Touch my tail, I shred your hand.
New rule tomorrow.

Grace personified
I leap into the window;
I meant to do that

Wanna go outside.
Oh, crap! Help! I got outside!
Let me back inside!

04:42 - More Sage Words from Up North

Rex Murphy of The Globe and Mail-- a Toronto paper-- shoos away whatever impressions might be lingering that we're under any moral obligation to treat the Guantanamo prisoners as anything other than virulent protozoa:

As dear Osama has spelled it out, the women and the children, the armed and unarmed, adult or embryo -- all are agents of the "great Satan" and therefore legitimate targets.

We can summarize these "rules" succinctly. Al-Qaeda can kill whom it likes, when it likes, for whatever reasons it likes, by any means and in any number it likes, while operating in stealth and secrecy among its target populations.

Given that this is a fair accounting of the group's modus operandi,on what grounds will anyone argue that these people are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other convention? They have no entitlements. They forfeited, by their actions, such entitlements. If they are being treated by those protocols, it is by the moral largesse of the U.S. military.

Saturday, February 9, 2002
19:29 - Software Piracy-- of course! It's actually good for us!

Unciaa says:

Suppose we're talking about software that is really good and people would be willing to purchase. What then? Well, see, another problem appears- people have limited budgets. A lot of people cannot afford to live by almighty rules that essentially say "I would rather use nothing than a stolen program". If you live by those rules, I have a sneaky suspicions you're also one of the people that can afford all their software, but I can assure you that a lot, nay, most people aren't that lucky. They have a limited budget and they don't want to suffer needlessly just because they don't have enough income to pay for all their software. And sometimes it's also the case of the product registration and payement being too much damn trouble to be worth it. Your average computer user, one that uses their computer for more than that one Office copy that is, is between 15 and 25 and less than half of those have credit cards or the ability to send checks.

Of course... how could I be so short-sighted? Some people can't afford sophisticated software. So of course they're going to pirate it! How dare you be shocked? After all, everybody has a right to own the best software, but only the rich should be required to pay for it. Hey Ferrari! I'm suffering needlessly because I can't afford a 360 Spyder, you heartless bastards!

I tell you, I am getting reeeeeeally sick of hearing people come up with ways to justify their breaking the law. "Oh, if g4m3rZ are made to stop pirating games, they won't buy them, and the hardware manufacturers will stop innovating, and the hardware and gaming industries will collapse!" Uh-huh, and remember when Bill Gates said that the US government had better not punish Microsoft, or the American export economy would collapse-- because Microsoft is such an integral part of the country's financial well-being?

What this all is code for is that people are using software that they couldn't in their lives afford to buy, all because they found a cracked version somewhere; and because the cops aren't actually knocking on their doors, it's much easier to sit and poke at a straw-man argument and preen about how they're really the moral majority, than to stop using the software that they have stolen. I'm sure their tune would change if the cops did come knocking; but until then, using pirated software isn't "stealing"-- it's just a natural material welfare system! Yeah, that's right! It gives people the tools they need and want, but you only have to pay for it if you're rich and too stupid to see the light!

It'll certainly be a beautiful world when the whole free-market economy has converted over to the rules of software, won't it? High-school kids will own Mercedes and Ferraris, street bums will be able to have houses if they want, and companies will be able to refuse to pay corporate taxes if they don't feel like it-- as long as they're too small or poor to pay what the government says they owe. Oh, glory to the future! Bring on the Golden Age! Hail the insight of the Free Thinkers of the Internet Revolution!


19:06 - Ouch!

A Slashdot reader comments upon the state of Linux, and damn it's funny. I can just picture this dialogue in the mouths of the guys from Penny Arcade.

What's even funnier is the shrieking responses. The truth hurts, don't it?

18:23 - Quimby Road

It's the price I pay for getting up late on weekends: by the time I was out and looking for lunch, the sun was past the middle of the sky and was starting to back-light the western hills, the ones that form the backdrop to the great panorama you get from Quimby Road. But it was still a better sky than I'd seen all winter (the clearest skies around here tend to come during the summer; winter tends to be smoggy and gross), and so I grabbed my camera and headed up the mountain. Lance and I had gone up there a number of times on our motorcycles, but I'd never before remembered to bring my camera.

I had to park at the very summit of the pass, the only place where the road straightens out and where a car can be parked-- except, of course, they've put up "NO PARKING ANY TIME" signs all along that stretch just to annoy people like me. So I put my car on the shoulder of the driveway of a ranch that sits at the summit, and walked back down to the corkscrew. I hadn't counted on the distance from the corkscrew to the summit being about half a mile of very steep ground. By the time I got back to my car, the bicyclist who I'd passed laboring his way up the mountain had passed me again while I was taking pictures, and again on his way back down. I passed him a fourth time in my car as I engine-braked my way back down to the valley floor.

My only regret now is that I didn't have a bigger memory card in my camera. I oughtta pick one up.

05:01 - Some Olympic Thoughts From den Beste


It's been a long time since anyone with breasts actually competed in "Women's" gymnastics. In what is essentially a strength sport, women lose out in strength-to-weight ratio to girls and men. A man is stronger per weight than a boy, but a girl is stronger per weight than a woman. As a result, when you see the pictures of the Olympic gymnastic teams, it looks like a crime is being committed. You've got a whole lot of 13 and 14 year old girls with narrow hips and flat chests running around with men aged between 19 and 25 who are, leave us face it, quite virile. If they were out on the town together they'd all be arrested.

Interesting points...
Friday, February 8, 2002
02:44 - Well, that's one attack-free day down...

I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremonies with a bunch of the usual Friday-night friends; aside from the to-be-expected cuts-away to hockey games whenever the Olympics cut to a commercial (and sometimes when it didn't), it was a really enjoyable show. Sure, it's ostentatious and scripted way beyond any hope of being ascribed any spontaneous energy; but oddly enough I didn't much mind.

After the Parade of Nations, the long stage/rink show got underway, and it was awfully impressive. It was an artistic interpretation of the history of the American West, with a ceremony by the Five Tribes of local Indians blessing the games, followed by the involved musical extravaganza with skater puppeteers operating huge (20-foot-tall) puppets that had been designed by Michael Curry, the man responsible for the animals in the Broadway production of The Lion King. These ones looked every bit as cool, especially the giant ghostly moose and the bear. Awesomely effective.

The sports announcers have got to go, though. I don't need Bob Costas telling me "Oh, and here we have the two Eastern and Western railroads coming down the aisles, to come together in a symbolic gesture commemorating the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point", or to hear Copland's "Rodeo" come on as part of the musical production only for one of the announcers to quip, "Well! Now it's suddenly become a 'Beef: it's What's For Dinner' commercial," just reinforcing the dismal fact that those ads are now the first thing we think of when we hear that piece. How very American of us to ruin the performance by barging in during a well-choreographed number set to a musical classic and tying it to a TV commercial.

I'm always vaguely embarrassed by the Parade of Nations, especially when the Olympics are being held within the US, because first you have a couple hundred nations following their flags with maybe two or three athletes each; and then, at the end of the procession, along comes the USA-- just another team, right? Well, no, they've got approximately 25,000 athletes so as to make sure that these other countries that worked so hard to field one athlete to compete in one event won't have a ghost of a chance. The Olympics are supposed to be seen as impartial and non-nationality-specific, but it always comes across as a showcase for America-- our only outlet for condoned overkill, unchanged since the fall of the USSR, the catalyst for us developing that tradition of overkill in the first place. It's not something we're really prepared to scale back, evidently.

But on another note, I had to do a double-take at Bush's little speech declaring the Games open-- because he was standing in among a huge crowd, no Secret Service agents in sight, right down on the field. Usually, as the commentators noted, heads of state are always seated in a heavily-secured box of some sort, and they speak from there. This may be the first time since Kennedy that a President has put himself so ostentatiously out in the open and among the crowd. I guess the security at the stadium was really that tight, that his handlers allowed this to happen. Since the cameras picked up no obtrusive displays of security (like the tanks at the Super Bowl), the reassurance of the image was genuine.

So, all in all, an exhilarating show. The jingoism was kept to a minimum (the US didn't march in behind the WTC flag, having been told not to by the IOC-- they had a low-key ceremony with it earlier), though the symbolism of all the rituals (and the commentators explaining how it should all be interpreted) did get a little bit old. Remember back when people could put on a show, and the spectators were supposed to be able to watch it and figure out what it meant for themselves? I guess that's not a luxury we have these days. But all things considered, it was great fun, and a very impressive show. Kudos to all involved.

Now let's just hope we can make it through the next two weeks without an "incident".

13:00 - Hey, he said it...

On NPR last night, between the store and home, I heard a snippet of the "Remembering Jim Crow" segment they were doing-- talking to people who had lived through it, what it was like, and how things have changed.

They mentioned, almost in passing, that many whites in the South are still bitter over the loss of plantation fortunes in the Civil War. They had one guy saying, "I inherited enough to buy my wife's Oldsmobile when my folks finally died... but my grandfather's grandfather had three huge plantations on the Mississippi-- I don't know how many slaves he had. [wistful pause] I coulda just imagined those days, goin' out huntin' on the grounds... clean them ducks... skin that deer... yeah, I coulda done with that. ...And I think you could too."

I don't know if there's anything I can say in response to that that can draw to it any more ridicule than it already must have.

Is killing things all these people know how to do?

Then again, this is NPR we're talking about, so I'm sure that if they wanted a good line to quote from somebody who missed the antebellum days, this one was just too good to pass up.
Thursday, February 7, 2002
02:14 - To Return to Seanbaby...

Now, while I had myself a good hearty set of guffaws over the Seanbaby article I posted earlier today, there's something about it that I wanted to bring up and point out.

It's not about how it's right on the money. It is. Security is pretty much moot when compared to the initiative of passengers who realize that the plane they're on isn't simply being diverted to Havana, that if they just sit and let the terrorists do their thing it won't be a matter of avoiding a few box-cutter papercuts or black eyes, it'll be a matter of life or death for themselves and thousands of people on the ground. Hence the first three flights on 9/11 that crashed into their targets because the passengers thought it was just a "routine" hijacking, and the fourth-- after the passengers heard what had happened-- that did not, because the passengers stood up and started kicking nads.

See Hiker's post on the subject for more on that.

No, what I want to talk about is the fact that airport security is a joke, a joke worthy of Seanbaby-- and you know what? Everybody knows it. Even the government. Especially the government.

Here's the thing, see. Airport security is an illusion, a very carefully crafted illusion. X-ray machines and metal detectors are placed at a security checkpoint in order to convey that YOU ARE ENTERING A SECURE AREA. The purpose of this is to make the passengers feel safe. The purpose is not, or is only secondarily, to make the passengers be safe.

Hence Argenbright. Argenbright is cheap. They can run the X-ray machines; not perfectly well, true, but hiring people who can run them perfectly well would cost a helluva lot more. Ticket prices would be about twice as high, at least. And so the balance that is currently struck means that passengers get a certain amount of reassurance for a certain amount of cash outlay, and it's stable and satisfies the laws of supply and demand.

I don't mean to put this into such playing-cards-with-lives terms. I'm not trying to justify or condemn the way security is. Just to describe what's going on.

The FAA needs to meet a budget just like everybody else; the airlines have to meet their revenue numbers. We've seen what happens if they're grounded for even one day: whole airlines go out of business. It's that expensive. And an airline going under, or even missing its numbers, hits the stock market hard. It's in the entire country's interest to make sure the machinery of the airline industry moves along smoothly, and in order for that to happen, security has to match a certain features-for-price point. The three-hour lines for the X-ray machines won't last much longer, because the FAA won't pay for that level of work by security personnel for any longer than it absolutely has to-- and how long it has to is determined by how safe people feel, which is measurable by how many tickets they buy.

That's another interesting point, by the way. I've flown several times since 9/11, and frankly I've never noticed that security is that noticeably tighter. All I've noticed is that the X-ray machine line is a few minutes longer, they make you take out your laptop and send it through the machine separately and sort a few more things into different-sized bins, there are guys in fatigues with rifles standing around and looking uncertain, and people without tickets aren't allowed to go past the security checkpoint.

It's that last point that presents the only real inconvenience I've noticed about the airports. We now have to say good-bye to our loved ones before we go through the metal detector, then trundle through the long and winding terminals to our gate, there to wait for hours reading newspapers that other people have left behind, instead of spending those last few moments together and saying good-bye only at the last possible moment. Likewise, you can't meet whoever is greeting you until you've exited the baggage area-- not as soon as you get off the plane, like before. No more very-best-of-humanity exchanges between family or friends or lovers just outside the gate. Loki from Dogma would be so disappointed.

I'm told that this is a feature peculiar to American airports; in Canada and elsewhere, people without tickets have never been allowed into the secure area. Now we're just doing what everyone else does. This got me thinking: What exactly does such a measure protect against? Screening out people without tickets wouldn't keep terrorists out; they can buy tickets just as easily as anyone else can, and they can't very well get on a plane without a ticket (and a hijacked airport doesn't travel dangerously fast). I guess it might help keep the crowds from getting too thick in the secure area, and there might indeed be some merit in having people be quiet and introspective and pass the time with newspaper fragments while waiting for their flights to board instead of talking and laughing with their friends. Maybe it means they don't have to staff as many security guards throughout the terminals.

In any case, American airports really aren't set up for good-byes and greetings to occur near the screening area. There are no restaurants outside the secure area; before a recent flight, a friend and I had to eat plastic-wrapped sandwiches from a portable snack stand while sitting on luggage containers before saying good-bye. The old way will come back, and probably soon. You know why? Because the only reason it's gone now is that it's a quick, cheap way to provide more illusory security-- the passengers will think, "Hey! They're not allowing non-ticketed-passengers into the secure area. That's got to mean we're safer!" And they won't think about it too deeply, they'll walk forward with more of a spring in their step, and they'll buy tickets more readily. That's the goal.

The FAA might just as well have banned the use of laptops in the terminal. Not for any true security reason, but because it's cheap and easy to implement, and it's visible and easy to whip up a justification for it. People would quite readily think, "Well, yeah, maybe terrorists are known to use laptops to plan their operations beforehand or something," and they would absorb the inconvenience and feel more reassured that somebody is doing something. And the ticket sales would flow.

So to bring this point full circle, Seanbaby's article is spot-on, yes... but it's pointing out foibles that the FAA knows all too well, but it would just as soon people not draw attention to it. It's shouting about the emperor's lack of clothes. I want to be very clear here: I'm not advocating censorship of satire or exposure like Seanbaby's... but what's it trying to accomplish? If millions of people read it, would they all demand real security instead of illusory security? Well, if that's what people decide they want, sure-- but it'll cost a lot more, in the form of sharply hiked ticket prices. And it probably wouldn't catch all that many more perps than Argenbright does already. Argenbright can catch 90% of what federal employees would catch, for 40% of the pay.

It's not just a simple matter of "We need more real security". Richard Reid would have gotten through regardless of whether the X-ray machines were being manned by feds or by contractors-- he kept his bombs in a place where they weren't equipped to check. The guy who arrived in Buenos Aires today with an axe in his head would have set off no additional sirens at the security checkpoint. Real security in air travel, ever since about 9:00AM on September 11, has been handled with great and deadly efficiency by the flight crews and the passengers themselves on the planes.

We know now that any threat made on a plane has the potential to be something we should stand up and fight with immediate and deadly force, and we also know that hijackers will not be armed with anything more dangerous than boxcutters or shoes with plastique in them. We know we can take them out very easily if we just stand up and start punching as soon as we notice something's wrong.

And so security at the airports will recede back to pre-9/11 levels, or something very like it; but the people on the planes won't let down their guard. Thus we have both real security and illusory security, handled most efficiently by those who are best able to perform the respective tasks according to their natural capacities.

I'll be flying in about a week. I'll be one of the most effective pieces of airline security in the airline industry that day. I plan to do my job to the best of my ability.

21:13 - Somebody please listen to this man.

"It's a fair cop, but society's to blame."
"Oh, all right, we'll arrest them then."

Steven den Beste on the subject of Columbine, Lindh, and other cases of "Oh, it can't possibly be the individual's fault-- it must have been those violent video games or those alternative lifestyles that sent him round the bend!":

Why did Klebold and Harris shoot up Columbine high school? It's because they decided to do so. It's as simple as that. Who is responsible? They are. Since they're both dead, it's an unsatisfying answer. We want someone to blame, someone we can punish. But sometimes you can't get what you want.

Is it possible to prevent that kind of thing from happening again? Yes, but the price is too high. Klebold and Harris and John Walker Lindh are statistical outliers, and when a society is as big and varied as ours is, one in a million is damned well a long way from the center of the bell curve. The only way to prevent that kind of thing is by completely regimenting society in ways I could never accept. Millions of people play violent video games and then go about their lives as normal people; violent games do not make people violent. Millions of people listen to heavy rock music; there are many people whose parents break up or come out, or who adopt strange religions. Nearly everyone's parents screw up one way or another. Ultimately each of us has to play the hand that life deals us, and do the best we can with it. If we screw up, we have to accept responsibility for ourselves. And when others screw up, we have to let them, or force them, to take responsibility for themselves.

Ever since Beavis was banned from using the word "fire" because some rattly-headed youngster set his house ablaze, I've been deeply, deeply bitter about this phenomenon. Oddly enough, I used to blame the kid: "Gee, thanks for ruining it for all of us!" ...But the fact is that nothing would ever have been ruined for everybody if the kid's parents hadn't been so good at deflecting any accusations that, well, maybe it was their fault for letting the kid watch Beavis & Butt-head despite the "parental guidance" warning, or maybe the kid's fault for being a goddamn idiot, regardless of his age. No, it can't be the poor innocent kid's fault! And it can't be the poor distraught parents' fault! No, it's gotta be society that caused this to happen. So it's society that we'll punish.

In the absence of being able to blame bad things on Satan or the vapors like we used to, we desperately want there to be some big, oppressive, menacing force that's just lurking in wait to put worms in our brains and make us shoot up schoolyards. Way back when, we dealt with these kinds of problems by burning the perpetrators at the stake-- but if they were already dead or beyond reach, we reacted by going to church a lot and burning everybody at the stake who might turn out to be a problem. Suspicion was all that was needed. The people want to go home happy; they want to sleep well in their beds. And they can't do that while thinking that the kid next door could be the next to go nuts, when we could have prevented it by locking him up in a box with pillows and teddy bears.

I'm sick of having the good things in life ruined for me. We've already had nature itself do that with sex and with food that tastes good; let's not contribute to the problem by demonizing things that most humans understand how to handle properly. This isn't Salem anymore. We're better than that. Aren't we?

20:41 - See, this is the honey-pot that Microsoft saw the Xbox could be.


Touché, indeed.

14:05 - Almost... there...

I'm almost ready to resume my normal life of work, after yet another day of fighting and kicking and pleading with Windows 2000 to pleeeeease be nice to me. I gave up on the server machine and nuked-n-paved it, and now I'm trudging through the reboot-after-reboot phase of Windows Update, bringing it into sync with all the current service packs.

I have to do them in a very specific order, according to all the Win2K gurus who have been offering me helpful advice lately, both within the company and otherwise. If, for instance, I install the "Critical Updates Pack" (at the top of the list) before installing "Service Pack 2", I'm told it will install about 500 files before suddenly realizing "Hey! SP2 isn't installed! I shouldn't actually be doing this!" and run away.

I get this image of Snake, the on-the-run ex-con from the Simpsons, saying "Ho! Try using this system, pig! Bye!" and jumping out the window.

Book 'im, Lou.

13:46 - Seanbaby Smacks Up some Stupids

Well, it's about time: Seanbaby has weighed in on terrorism, and more specifically, on Americans' reactions in the months following the day on which we all suddenly started paying attention to it again.

Because this is Seanbaby we're talking about, be warned of coarse language. But much more importantly, be aware that the coarse language is all part and parcel to the fact that this is an article that anyone who's tired of all the tiptoe-around-the-touchy-issues BS that's been wafting through the air over the past several months will find very, very refreshing. He tackles airport security ("The only problem with security is that it's based around pretending to be an idiot. A clerk asking me if I packed my own bag isn't going to foil anyone's smuggling operation, but the two of us have to pretend to be stupid enough to think we're keeping the world safe. Airport security quadrupled after September 11th, which meant that security personnel had to pretend to be idiots four times as hard."), Anthrax ("At the end of it all, Anthrax finished neck and neck with domesticated duck attacks for total kills."), racial profiling ("While airport security agents are pretending that tweezers are deadly weapons, they're also pretending not to notice that slightly over one hundred percent of terrorists are of middle eastern descent."), and our obsession with erasing any mention of terrorism or the World Trade Center from all of our pop culture and media, including the upcoming E.T. release, which will apparently not contain the line "You can't be a terrorist for Halloween!" ...I didn't realize that. Here I'd thought we had gotten over that already.

In short, shelve your propriety and read. I have some commentary to offer about it, but it'll wait until another post.
Wednesday, February 6, 2002
23:08 - On the Subject of Stupid People...

The movie I saw last night was Le Pacte des Loups-- that is, The Brotherhood of the Wolf. A French movie, as if that weren't seriously obvious from the title and the fact that the actors all had French names.

It was really fun, all things considered. Well, maybe not fun per se-- maybe impressive is a better word. This movie had everything! French kung-fu, werewolf drama, gothic creepiness, period costumery and idiom, big swords in designs I've never seen before (a thwacky one that slings into a barbed chain like a Chinese yo-yo), sex, historical context-- yeah, everything. Even bullet-time and Matrix effects.

It's those bullet-time effects that I think are nearing the end of their popularity, now that I mention it. Lots of the fighting scenes in Loups cuts fairly gratuitously to slow-motion camera rotations, sometimes with a smooth transition, usually sharply. Yeah, it looks pretty cool, it gives you a better idea of what's going on, and it means you don't have to shoot quite so much actual fighting to fill up the footage-- but darn it, it's getting old. I didn't mind seeing the spoofs of the Matrix bullet-dodging scene in that Atari-retrospective QuickTime movie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, or the bullet-time spoofery in Shrek or the genuine uses of it in every Jet Li film since 1998, but now that Kung Pow is coming out (and telegraphing the fact that it's going to be doing Yet Another Matrix Spoof Scene in the trailers), I think it means the era is ending. We'll look back and consider Crouching Tiger to be the pinnacle of the use of the technique: subtle, effective, smooth.

But at any rate-- about half an hour into Loups, I had my shoulder tapped. I turned around to find a large guy in a t-shirt; big, angry-looking, thick-moustached, like the guy playing Barliman Butterbur in Lord of the Rings-- except looking considerably more put out.

"'Scuse me," he growls. "Do you know if the whole movie's gonna be this way?" Meaning, I understood, the French dialogue with subtitles.

"Well, yeah," I say. "It's French."

He sits back in his seat with a harrumph. About one minute later, I hear his seat creaking, and he sidles out and trundles down the stadium-seating stairs, grumbling and swearing to himself.

I'd love it if I could be the type of person with the mental powers to feel sympathy for these kinds of people, I really do. But when it becomes so obvious that the things they get angry about are so trivial and easy to work around, as with this guy or Hiker's bus lady or the couple in the taqueria, and that they're getting angry purely because they're unwilling to admit that they made an error in judgment or just a slight wrong turn and it is not the world's fault for not turning on its heels to cater to the actions they happen to have taken... well, I just don't have it in me to do anything but extend my tongue, hold up my nose so my nostrils are visible, and go "Thhppbbtllltlttpppt!"

When Kris and Chris and I were walking back from lunch one day a few weeks ago, down the left-hand side of De Anza Blvd., we were passed by a college-age kid on a bike. He was barreling down the bike lane on the wrong side of the road, right under sign after sign saying "BIKES USE OTHER SIDE". He came very close to colliding with us from behind on the sidewalk. We'd barely had time to realize what had happened before the guy, now in front of us, shot out from behind a hedge just where a car was pulling out onto De Anza. He swerved in behind the car, regained his balance, turned and started yelling and swearing at the car.

Chris, an avid bicyclist, had regained his presence of mind by now: "Try riding on the right side of the road!"

And the guy responds, still shakily getting his balance, with a middle finger tossed over his shoulder. Chris cheerfully replies, "Yeah, same to you!"

It's that end bit that I wish I'd been able to punctuate with something really stinging. Because watching that idiot pedaling off into the distance, head still shaking with unheard oaths, we all wished simultaneously for there to be some kind of cosmic come-uppance for pure willful idiocy. Not some kind of pansy best-revenge-is-living-well garbage. We're talking about lightning bolts from heaven, or light poles falling across the bike lane at just the right time, or just one blessed moment of Jhonen Vasquez-style head-explodey power.

11:46 - Such Hardships We Face

I was in a taqueria in Fremont last night; as I was finishing up, the clock was winding towards 9:00, closing time. As I took the last few bites, the proprietors turned off the OPEN sign and started stacking chairs on the tables, and the light behind the counter went out.

Just then, a couple entered the store. The guy had sort of curly puffy hair, a baseball cap, and a tank top-- sort of like Carrot Top if he went to the gym and had a Camaro. The female was sort of dumpy and frizzy and in her rapidly progressing 20s, with that haughty sort of I-was-once-a-cheerleader-dammit air about her. They came into the store and went up to the darkened counter.

The surprised proprietor, sweeping up, said, "Oh, we're closed now-- sorry," with an apologetic look. Now, most normal people would take this at its face value, right? You walk into a mostly darkened restaurant at 8:59:59 where the OPEN sign has been turned off and the chairs are stacked on the tables, and you pretty much expect that they won't be eager to serve another customer, right? And even if they were by some miracle of customer service, you'd understand their hesitation, right? You'd maybe cut them a little slack, even show some astonished gratitude?

But no, these people decided to stand there and argue for at least a couple of incredulous sentences. I couldn't hear much of it, but it took a good half-minute for the employee with the broom to convince them that the "Store Hours" sign outside wasn't blatantly lying. Finally they swung around and stomped out the door; but just before disappearing into the night, the woman turned back towards the interior of the store and in that nasal, petulant voice that causes a little ganglion at the back of any hearer's brain to fire off the "heave a large sharp rock immediately" instinct, she said, "Whatever."

Then they were gone. And the excellent burrito I'd just finished suddenly tasted like mud.

Like the woman on Hiker's bus, this little incident burned itself into my mind and could easily have ruined my night if I hadn't been on my way to see a movie that completely took my mind off of desperately stupid examples of humanity. Who the hell-- no, never mind. I'm not going to go off on this tangent. I have peace of mind for the first time this week, and I'm going to cherish it.
Tuesday, February 5, 2002
18:34 - Windows Melted!


This is the state of my desktop machine at lunch today. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Yes, this is a CRT doing this, not an LCD doing really bad interpolation. This is how it froze.

Incidentally, this is another iPhoto Moment begging to be told. While I was clawing my cheeks in agony staring at the screen of my once-working computer, I came to the conclusion that I ought to take pictures. So I went upstairs and borrowed a digital camera from a co-worker. He gave me the camera and the USB cable, and held up a CD. "You want to install the software, or...?" I said, "No thanks-- I've got iPhoto!" We don't need no steenking drivers.

Take photos; plug in; press Import. Go to Share, press Export, save web page to my machine at home which is mounted via AppleTalk. Five minutes and I'm done.

Then I had to reboot my Windows 2000 machine 19 times in succession.
Monday, February 4, 2002
22:54 - Curse you, Bill! You'll never... break... my spirit!

It all started so innocently. I was going through my test plans, and saw that I should revisit Login functionality. The first few testcases involved web-user-interface testing through MSIE, so I fired it up.

"There is a new version of Internet Explorer available!" it crowed at me upon launch. Well, not surprising, I guess; I don't use the browser very much except when testing calls for it. So I click where it tells me to click, I wait about half an hour, and it tells me I'm upgraded to IE6. Okay, nifty. "Please reboot now," it says.

Well, fine. Par for the course when the OS thinks the browser is part of it. I reboot, and when the machine comes back up and tries to log onto the corporate network, the NT Logon Script goes nuts-- something crashes with an illegal operation, something else in a DOS box starts to spin out of control in an apparent infinite loop, and only repeated cancelings and oaths get it to stop. I hunt down Robin, our IT guy, and ask him what the problem might be.

"Oh-- you're using Windows 98," he says, upon seeing my machine. "That's your problem." Turns out the logon script no longer supports Win98. Okay, fine-- I'll upgrade to Windows 2000. Not a problem. ("Don't worry-- I won't make you run Windows XP. I don't know of any IT shop in the country that has allowed Windows XP in yet," he reassures me.)

So in goes the Win2K MSDN disc. "Would you like to upgrade to Windows 2000?" Why yes. It does its thing, I go through some bizarre BIOS-checking and hardware-compatibility-checking pseudo-web-presentation things, and it finally tells me that I've answered all the questions I'll need to. "The process will take approximately 40-55 minutes," it says confidently. "Your machine will reboot four times." (Four times? Okay, I'm sure that's all necessary for some bizarre black magic it does-- we can't expect it to do it all in one shot like most operating systems, right?) And then it goes to shut down.

"Windows 98 is shutting down," it tells me. That full-screen 320x200 splash screen sits there motionless for ten minutes before I decide that I'm not getting anywhere this way; it's already written to my boot blocks, I figure. It can't do any more damage if I just reboot it, right? Well, what the hell. Ctrl+Alt+Delete has no effect anyway, so I hit the reset button.

It does its 80x25 text-mode thing; oddly comforting to know that in the 21st Century, Wintel boxes still look like MS-DOS if you strip away the blankets of comfort that swath them during normal operation. It finishes that and automatically reboots a second time.

Ooh, now we're in graphics mode-- sort of, anyway. Sixteen colors of glory. "Windows will now attempt to detect hardware like your mouse and keyboard," it says. (Never mind that my mouse and keyboard both work fine-- see, there's the pointer moving around.) "Your screen may flicker for a few seconds during this process." Fine; no problem. I've done this about a bazillion times before. What could go wrong?

That's what my screen turned into after the progress bar got about halfway across the screen. It flips into text mode, and suddenly we've got a screen full of apostrophes (or backquotes, or whatever). And the system is frozen, of course; not even a Ctrl+Alt+Del can wake it. So in the middle of an installation or not, I hit Reset again.

Same process. Same detection screen. Same progress bar, and BOOM! Same screen full of backquotes.

I call some team members over. They've never seen anything like this before. I call Robin over. He's never seen anything like this before. Now, I can specifically recall seeing exactly this same thing happening about a year ago when I upgraded our entire VoIP lab to Win2K, but for the life of me I can't remember what the hell I did to solve it then, or whether I ever did. So I tell myself to just calmly take the CD out and put it into my NT4 server box, which I also need to upgrate to Win2K in order to test PolicyCenter, our centralized server product. Note that the server box has exactly the same hardware as the first machine.

"Would you like to upgrade to Windows 2000?" Why, yes. Thank you for asking. Of course, this time it's Win2K Server, not Professional; so they figure I don't need to see the pseudo-web-page things about BIOS compatibility or upgrade packs; instead, it's just something about Signed Applications or something-- aw, skip it. Off I go into the reboot cycle.

Text mode thing: fine. Conversion to NTFS: Not needed. Keyboard and mouse detection stage.... I brace myself, expecting a screen full of backquotes. But no... it actually completes this stage without incident. Took a bloody long time, but it worked.

Ah, now for the actual installation part. They said 40-55 minutes, right? Well, about 30 minutes into "Installing Distributed Transaction Manager" without the progress bar advancing by so much as one pixel, I start to get a little suspicious. By the time it has taken 15 additional minutes on "Installing COM+", I am downright perturbed. My eyes are starting to hurt. But-- wait! It's done! An hour has passed, but it's done! Just "a few final tasks", and I'm home free! Four simple check-box items!

"Installing Start Menu Items" goes by without incident. And then "Registering Components"... and the progress bar gets about 30% of the way through-- and then stops.

Thirty-five minutes later, the progress bar has not moved a micron. "What are you doing? WHAT are you DOING?!" I shout at it repeatedly; but of course there's no "console" or anything (like in Mac OS X and every UNIX installer) to give me a straight answer. The hard disk light isn't blinking. My mouse still works, though, so I use it to mark my place on the progress bar and take the CD out to try some more troubleshooting on the first machine, my desktop box-- the one with four years' worth of archived work data, all my e-mail, all my software, all my test tools and so on-- the one that is currently a screen full of apostrophes.

David gets back to me to tell me that he was able to find nothing about this problem on Microsoft's support site, which (in accordance with their annual custom) they have helpfully reorganized to take previously convenient and accessible information and seal it away in a vault so that the only way to find anything out is to know what you're looking for beforehand; so no luck there. He gives me four floppy disks-- "Just use the 'Repair Windows 2000 installation' option", he suggests. Floppies? Windows boxes still depend on floppies? Well, whatever. I go back to the box and load up the floppies, one after another, into the little DOS text-mode thing. Fifteen minutes, and the thing is finally loaded-- and meanwhile my server installation hasn't moved a muscle. The progress bar is still right where I marked it.

"Repair Windows 2000 Installation," I almost pleadingly select. It pops up a choice: "Press 'C' to use the 'Repair Console', or press 'R' to use the 'Emergency Repair Mode'." Mmmkay... with some trepidation, I press 'C'.

"Enter your Administrator password!" What? I don't HAVE one! I never got that far in the installation, dumbass! Well, okay, I try a blank password-- and it works. I know this because it gives me... a C:\WINDOWS\> prompt. Oh, goodie. I'm sure I can do a lot of good here. I look around, conclude that this isn't where I wanted to be. So I type "exit", and... the machine reboots.

AAaaaruuuugh! No, I am not spending another fifteen minutes putting in floppy after floppy and waiting for this damn thing to load "TOSHIBA Floppy Disk Driver for Laptop LT675A" and "Adaptec SCSI Adapter 29106 Ultra Fast Wide Deep Long SCSI-17b" just to try whatever the hell this 'Emergency Repair Mode' might be-- which clearly isn't going to help much on a system where nothing has even really been installed yet. I yank the last disk out of the drive, and it reboots right back into the keyboard/mouse check screen-- and back to the apostrophes.

But wait! The server installation suddenly moved! 55 minutes later and it's finally making progress on "Registering Components" once again! Ha ha ha haah! We get signal! Ooh, wait-- it's hung up again. But no, only five minutes later and it's finished! Now only "Saving Changes to Files", and then "Deleting Unnecessary Temporary Files", and we're done! Boom-- it's finished, and we reboot! Hip hip hooray!

Well, one more reboot, that is. After I log in to the Win2K desktop, it tells me some stuff about driver installation being complete, and (of course) "One or more drivers or services failed to start up". Nice-- sure am glad this thing installed so cleanly. I reboot as instructed, and back it comes.

...Or does it? This time, after I log in to the network, it takes fifteen minutes for it to give me mouse control. It's a nice normal mouse pointer in the desktop workspace, but it turns into an hourglass instantly if I put it over the taskbar... but I am equally prohibited from clicking whether in the taskbar or in the desktop area. I can't click on ANYthing. Whoah! Finally, the "Configure Your Server" thing comes up! ...Or maybe not; it's only painted partway, with the frame and title bar but no contents. Well, I usually just ignore this thing anyway; I click the X, and I instantly get a "Program not responding" window. What you say! OK, get the damn thing out of my face. Now maybe I can run something, right...? Well, no, I can click now-- but double-clicking on anything, like the shortcut to the builds server or the "Connect to Internet" thing that never dies, with the big colorful gaudy mouse-pointer-in-supernova icon, results in an icon that blinks dark for a second and then goes back to normal. Nothing ever launches. I can bring up the Task Manager, but as far as it's concerned, I'm running no applications at all. Of course not! The only one that seemed to be loading wasn't responding. (No CPU activity or memory usage is reported either, just for your edification.)

Finally there's an error message, about two minutes after I double-clicked on it, that the link to the network resource (with the builds directory) can't be reached. Aha! No TCP/IP settings. Something must have gotten munged. My Network Places (what, "Network Neighborhood" was too grammatical or clearly stated for you?), Properties-- oh, a window with stuff in it. How special. I've always thought TCP/IP settings should be treated as files, you know? Gawd. Anyway.. wait. The only thing in this window is "Make New Connection". Aren't there, like, supposed to be other configurations...? Like for my LAN connection?

Well, let's click on "Make New Connection". Hmm... a wizard. it appears to be asking me for my modem information and ZIP code. No-ho-hooo, I'm not running my Win2K server on a dial-up. "Cancel", I say.

A dialog pops up. "Blah blah need phone information blah blah. Are you sure you want to cancel?" I have two buttons available, Yes and No. "Yes", I click. The dialog goes away... but the wizard doesn't. Um... I said, "Yes, I want to cancel." So I hit Cancel again. "Are you sure you want to cancel?" "YES!" The dialog cancels, the wizard sits there happily.

One more time! "CANCEL!" "Are you sure you want to cancel?" "FORTHELASTFUCKINGTIMEYESIWANTTOCANCEL!" ... and lo! The wizard quits!

(Try this on your own Windows 2000. It's really quite sensational. They've built in an internal counter to force you to say "Yes, I am sure I want to cancel" three times before it believes you and does what you say. "First you must answer me these questions three, ere the other side you see!" the grizzled wizard cackles. No, Microsoft knows what we really want. They have our best interests at heart. These are the people who will be controlling our credit cards in the very near future. Warms your heart, doesn't it?)

So anyway. I clearly have no viable option for entering my TCP/IP settings, on this machine which has so faithfully been running NT4 for the past three years. Does Windows 2000 Server ship without the software necessary to run on a LAN by default? Hmm, maybe I need to "Install Additional Networking Components," like it suggests so helpfully over on the left. Whoo, another wizard! three options. I pick "Additional Networking Services" or something that looks equally likely to be useful. It asks for the CD-- I yank it out of the apostrophe box and cram it in. It seems happy; it installs files. The progress bar gets to about 90%... and then a dialog: "You must have Microsoft IIS installed to add these components." And then an error dialog citing some incomprehensible hex number in parentheses.

By now I am visibly shaken. Okay, I am shrieking with rage. Oh, look! The checkbox says these Additional Networking Components (whatever the flying fuck they are) were actually installed, IIS or no IIS! But still no LAN settings to set. Well, hmm-- let's go into Add/Remove Hardware! I always love this; "I'd like to install a new sound card, please!" "Yessir!" And big robot arms come out of the floppy drive, pull a sound card out from behind my ear, and retract it into the box and install it with clunking and whirring sounds. Well, okay, that only happened once. And it didn't work this time, because as I was disappointed to see, about five of my devices had big yellow DANGER signs on them. And my Ethernet card icon was a big yellow question mark. Windows 2000 has never heard of my so-called "Intel EtherExpress Pro" or my "Intel PCI Bridge" or my "Creative SoundBlaster 16".

God, I'm sure glad we have this great, modern new OS to "upgrade" to, and to remove support for this shoddy, useless old hardware that nobody in the world uses.

So I abandon Mr. Server to its little mind games. I look back with furor at the apostrophe box. I use Lynx on the new server I'm building to pull up Google. A quick search on the terms "windows 2000 installation detection text screen apostrophe backquote ` god damn bill gates fucking piece of microsoft shit" turns up no useful results. So after noting with some despair that Robin had gone home some two hours before, and the rest of my team had followed suit, I looked up at the clock and decided that I would leave my useless driver-less server and my desktop machine with its screen that says

and go the hell home.

Perhaps tomorrow will bring glorious insight and the resurrection of my machine with all its crucial data. Perhaps I will end up buying a new drive to install Win2K on and mount this drive on as a secondary, just like I had to when the Windows 98 installation botched my Windows 95 disk with its store of crucial data. In fact, the Win95 disk is still mounted in there. I foresee a pattern emerging here.

So in any case, for everybody for whom Windows 2000 is working really well, I'm really and truly glad to hear it. I don't know what it is you are able to do that makes the system acquiesce to your needs, but I clearly don't possess those faculties. I admire and applaud you. But mostly I'm just glad to be back home and away from Windows. For one more day.

17:11 - Well, yeah, there's that one downside...


14:13 - And a new day dawns...

Okay. I wasn't in any kind of shape last night to talk about this rationally, as any of my (very patient) friends who bore with me through my rantings and ravings can attest. But now that I'm a little calmer, I'll see if I can't explain just what it is about sports-- specifically organized professional team sports, and more specifically football-- that gets under my skin like a syringe the size of a turkey baster.

Hiker has a post which does a good job of explaining what's so slimy about pro football in a much calmer way than I could do-- to give you a hint, I would talk about double-Y-chromosome prison escapees and drug addicts being paid salaries the size of some countries' GDPs to ram their heads against each other in a gladiatorial arena and break each other's legs for the entertainment of millions of pot-bellied, bald, beer-stained couch primates who will go to bars and discuss pointless statistics with each other and drink till they pass out if their team wins, and go into furious rages and beat their wives and children and crash their cars if it loses. It's about the most quintessentially debasing thing that we as a country do, and it's held up as the Pinnacle of Twentieth-Centry American Culture and the advertisers' paradise, the start of the new sales fiscal year.

But I'm not going to do that. (Hah! See, I didn't really say anything in the preceding paragraph.) My problem with sports is rooted in academics. I spent my high school years trying to find a university to attend where my $30,000 tuition wasn't inflated to that level by athletic scholarships being handed out by scouts at the high-school football games, giving kids with single-digit IQs a free pass to go to Stanford or UCLA just because it would make their sports teams better. These universities have to staff remedial Geometry classes so the schools can pretend their athletes are students, while they're really just rewarding them for never having even bothered to go to classes in junior high with a free ticket to some of the most prestigious places on earth to learn, while kids with 1550s on their SATs can't go because the school won't pay their tuition, no way. Why foster a genius at your temple of learning when you can recruit a thug to help you get a trophy?

My high school didn't have much of a problem with the "jocks vs. nerds" mentality, but a lot of my friends did. They grew up in an environment where the jocks could do no wrong; a star quarterback could get away with date rape or breaking some math nerd's arm simply because he was going to take the school to the finals, and the coach ain't gon' have none o' that persecution happenin' to his boah, no way! So meanwhile, while the schools pretend to value education and academic excellence (silly me, that's what I thought a school was for), all they do is send signals to the kids that all being smart will do is get you beaten up, and if you were so smart, you shouldn't have provoked him, you whiny little geek. Only the Strong Survive.

I specifically went to a college where the only NCAA-level sports were badminton and fencing, and where I knew that my and my parents' $30,000 per year wasn't going to subsidize some gorilla who would lower the school's academic standards and turn the social atmosphere of the campus into just a bigger, less regulated version of high school. I seriously think more people should consider Jesse Ventura's proposal that colleges should-- not get rid of their athletic programs, keep those-- but stop pretending the athletes are there to be students. If the colleges want sports teams, let them hire one right out of high school, have 'em play in their stadium, feed 'em whatever drugs they need-- but don't conflate these two completely incompatible goals, of fostering academic excellence and of fielding a winning football team.

Then they go on to the pro leagues, and many will speak in proud, chest-puffed tones about how these are men at the top of their games, after a lifetime of achievement, that these are the less-than-one-percenters who have succeeded beyond all hope while the others are now pumping gas (a nicely quaint little statement, now that I think about it). Well, come on. These guys will leave their home team for the hated rival if offered a bigger contract. They'll steal your pen instead of giving you an autograph. They'll get caught over and over on drug charges, parole violations, and a hundred other scandals that traditionally ensnare the Rich and Dumb-- all because their teams and their fans are willing to support them taking home quarter-billion-dollar salaries to slay each other on the field in front of hundreds of thousands of live shrieking drunk spectators and millions more at home. You may call that "hero worship", but I have a different name for it: pornography for sadists. And I want no part of it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't hate all sports, not by a long shot. I certainly don't hate playing sports. I've always greatly admired baseball for its elegance-- you can memorize the rule book in an afternoon, and everything is based on "X occurs before Y, therefore Z". None of this ridiculous "3 seconds of man in motion, but if the ball touches the line 5 yards back from the line of scrimmage more than 3/100 seconds before the snap, three coxswains and a giant flying eyeball can be admitted to the field and the defensive mascot must open the Gatorade and plant a flag before crossing the Maginot Line" nonsense you get in football. Besides, in baseball it's all about skill and speed and the ability to execute a perfectly turned play-- not about who can break each other's skull open the most graphically for this year's Sports Illustrated video. I'll certainly watch the skiing at the Olympics, though I'd rather be doing it myself; I'll play squash for two or three hours on a Friday night, and if Chris is reading this, c'mon-- 2AM wasn't that late. But I just get very, very discouraged to find that no matter where I go, who I live with, or how long or horrible the movie is that I go to to try to escape from it, there is no getting away from the horrible brain-scraping squall of basketball buzzers, football whistles, the muffled abdominal impact grunts of hockey, the crowd roars, announcer patter, and the aforementioned choruses of "AAAAAOOOOOOOOWWWWWWHHH!" from the appreciative crowd in the living room whenever anybody gets their head ripped off and kicked through the goalposts on TV downstairs.

... Oh, right. Political relevance. Political relevance... Ah! I know.

See, I can sit here and fume about this Great American Institution, and anybody reading this will probably just shake their heads and cluck their tongue at my misguidedness. But dude, if this were 1955, I would probably lose my job and be tailed every day for the next five years by FBI spooks in black cars just for daring to mouth such opinions-- let alone to post them where just anybody can read them. (Imagine what would have happened if the Internet had been developed when McCarthyism was rampant! ...No, actually don't, unless you're a morbid sort.)

So that's why Super Bowl Sunday for me is like the Christmas season for a Jew-- the entire country going nuts over something that's actively hostile to me and that I can't escape. Now at least I know that next year I'll have to go for a nice, long motorcycle ride or something, long into the night, until the topics of discussion have moved on to something blessedly, mercifully quieter.
Sunday, February 3, 2002
00:23 - Geez, which bases haven't we covered?

There are lots of semi-acknowledged or non-acknowledged problems in the world, particularly as regards America and our place in it. For the past fifty years at least, we've sort of let those questions go undiscussed, partly because discussion of one aspect of this complex of philosophical issues implies a need for discussion of another aspect and having as a prerequisite a third aspect (as I said yesterday we have avoided openly discussing the nature of American freedom out of fear of appearing too jingoistic or redneck-patriotic), and so we vapor-lock and sort of hope the people who do talk about them lose interest and go away.

But in the post-9/11 blog world, we have people writing online who apparently haven't heard of these limitations on our willingness or ability to philosophize, and they're methodically tackling each issue one at a time until anybody who has been paying attention should have as good a grasp on the role America plays in the world as a White House Cabinet member.

Steven den Beste of USS Clueless has taken on defense of the Constitution, cultural insularity, Palestine and Israel, European anti-Americanism, Islamic anti-Americanism, and the concept of America as an ideal of government and society. And now he tackles "cultural imperialism". You know-- McDonalds and Levi's and Disney.

If people in Cairo wear Levis, if people in Kuala Lumpur wear Nikes, if people in Kabul watch Schwarzenegger movies, if people in Bangalore watch Baywatch, if people in Kinshasa listen to rock music, it's because they like it.

We don't have to actively spread our culture to the world; it is seductive. Cultural competition is darwinian; and one culture can replace another quite easily. It happens because of a billion individual choices by a billion people, not as the acts of a few. We don't have to actively spread our culture, because it is spreading on its own. And so are our political ideals.

Ideas and attitudes are the most dangerous things we humans have ever created. Wars have been fought over them. And the most dangerous ideas in history are secularism, and self determination. The idea that religion should be an individual thing but never a governmental thing, and that individuals should be permitted to decide for themselves how they want to live without asking permission from their neighbors or the local priest, threaten the old order more than guns or bombs.

One way to tell how confident someone is in their ideals is to see whether they're willing to let you hear what their opposition has to say. If one side says "Read both sides" and the other side says "You should only listen to us because their ideas are too dangerous for you to experience", then you can be sure that the second guy knows his idea will lose. Censorship is the intellectual equivalent of protectionism. It uses the law to protect ideas which cannot survive on their own.

The biggest ideological problem, as he goes on to point out, is that if you're a culture that sees life as a series of trials and temptations that lead you away from the True Right Path-- then you're going to consider such concepts as balanced exposure to ideas and openness to outside cultural influences to be in themselves heretical.

And what this leads to is a deep-down question about the Meaning of Life, and something we must understand about the difference between Western egalitarian society and fundamental religious regimes: For us, religion is something you do. For them religion is something you are.

We tend to treat the church/synagogue/mosque as something you go to for one day out of the week, either to appease some internal nagging sense of need for balance and inspiration in your life, or to appease your mother-in-law, or for a variety of reasons with varying sincerity. But to a member of the Taliban-- one who honestly believes that his cause is the True Right Path-- religion is not simply a part of your life. It is your life. Any personal achievement or leisure activities you pursue must occur within the structure of religion. For us, the default state of doing nothing involves sitting on the couch watching TV. For them, it involves prayer. Prayer is their TV.

So the question, the meaning-of-life question, is this: Can we sit back and posit that our way of thinking is "right" simply because it is so obvious that the natural laws of human nature lead to it, that if we present no obstacles to information most people will come to agree with us? Or is that, in itself, the very nature of "temptation"-- the fact that such ideas are natural and compelling and the destination of highest entropy being the basis for a human being's failure to see the Light?

Most religions, like most oppressive governments, advocate self-moderation as a virtue; they consider the submission to "easy" ideas to be a human failing. In an environment of laissez-faire, humans will embrace ideas of openness, tolerance, democracy, and freedom-- and they will also have extramarital sex, do drugs, lean toward anarchy, and flout law and authority.

This is exactly why religions promote self-moderation and can lead to censorship.

So the Big Question really amounts to whether religion is a set of true laws designed to keep humans out of Hell, or whether it is a human invention designed to keep people from rising up against their leaders.

I think I'll just stop right there.

21:26 - Black Hawk... eugh.

Damn, isn't that game over yet? I got home after 2.5 hours in the theater, and there's still no end in sight to the shrieks of AAaaAAAOOOUUWWWWWWWWHHH! in the living room whenever large men with inch-thick skulls collide in midair.

I was pretty sure Black Hawk Down was a fairly awful movie between the time that I got home from the theater and the time that I pulled up Paul Tatara's review (linked above), but I had to go check out his opinion of it just to make sure. And, well, it looks like it wasn't just me. This thing really was a dog.

There is nothing original or interesting in Black Hawk Down that wasn't already in Saving Private Ryan or Three Kings. You have the former's brutally graphic violence, albeit 2.5 hours of it this time instead of just the intro-- right down to the surreal scenes where the audio fades away while some soldier picks up a severed hand or arm and puts it in his pocket for later. You've got the latter's weird, yellow, grainy, overexposed film quality, making it look as though the whole film canister is made out of desert. And yet, somehow, it makes both those things look cliché, though they've only each happened once before, like the scenes with that odd bluish tint like the Gladiator dream sequences that show up here for some reason.

But that's not where the triteness ends, no sir. It manages to shoehorn in all kinds of cheap war movie clichés that we've all seen a hundred times elsewhere-- and they're not even handled in an interesting or original way here. There's a scene with the obligatory exchange between a dying soldier ("Tell my parents I fought well today...") and his comrades ("No, you're gonna tell them yourself"), ending with the soldier dying-- whoah, surprise. There's a scene in which a soldier gets captured and interrogated by one of the Somali militia-- a guy who, by his artfully accented, flowery vocabulary appears to have been schooled at a Boston boarding school, and who regales the prisoner with his unique local perspective on the nature of the war and humanity and death, worthy of a star Times columnist-- though he seems a lot less dangerous to be held captive by than the Iraqi guy from the exact same scene in Three Kings. And the movie finishes up with equally trite, contrived, rehearsed speeches on heroism and how "it's all about the man standing next to you" delivered by grunts with Southern accents-- almost embarrassing, considering the meaningless slaughter you've just sat through, and the (surely unintentional, but ironic nonetheless) presentation of all the soldiers as pretty much indistinguishable. Their hair is all cut the same (well, duh, it's the military), but they all pretty much do the same stuff, with the exception of the guy deafened by machine gun fire (who seems to have gone, to coin a phrase, "deaf and m-mmm-m-mm-mmad, suh!", waddling from cover to cover and making oblivious gape-mouthed eye-rolling facial expressions that seem as though they'd be more appropriate in Hot Shots, Part Deux). I've never seen such a movie full of anonymous, only vaguely individual characters before-- the dialogue that isn't spoken in brusque walkie-talkie-ese can be gathered together onto a single page of script.

For all its triteness, Black Hawk Down does get a guy thinking about war and stuff. But what it does, in this day and age, is to remind us just how good we have it. "19 Army Rangers and 1000 Somalis lost their lives in the raid," the movie tells us at the end. Wow, you'd almost get the impression that we treat the enemy as anonymously and dispensably as the movie treats them. We get shot after shot of Somalis getting blown away-- but it's tempered by (a) the interrogator accusing the American prisoner of leading a meaningless life, secure in his money and his comfort... and (b) the contextual sense that one gets while watching the movie, that our rallying cry of "Leave no man behind" is intensely fatuous and egocentric. Especially now that we've demonstrated the ability to flatten a country like Afghanistan by dumping bombs into the windows or rooms where the bad guys are meeting, while losing only the occasional Marine in on-base accidents and killing civilians only by extremely rare accident, like by typos in the targeting computers. By that token, Black Hawk Down may be the last gasp of the Bad Old Days of war where fighting for one's life in the streets of a hostile city while the enemy makes itself indistinguishable from noncombatants was the way it was done.

That's the sense I left the theater with. "Damn, war sucks-- but thank goodness we'll never find ourselves in that kind of mess again."

Yeah, I know we will. But still, I think this movie just confuses people right about now. It makes us feel like "Well, if third-world countries don't want the help of outside nations who want to prevent mass starvation and genocide, then fine-- let 'em fend for themselves." But then it turns around and makes us thankful for the modern age of warfare and Hooray For the USA, or something. I don't know. I think I've completely lost track of my train of thought. I'm sorry-- this is the second time I've gotten this far in this post; the first time I was trying to make a ® symbol and hit Command+R (reload) instead of Option+R, an error which threw the whole 10K or whatever into the bit-bucket. I think it discarded whatever point I might have had too.

Bottom line: I didn't like the movie very much. (Parting note: There's a medical scene that's so cringeworthy that it could only have been dreamed up by someone who noticed that the audience would be so jaded and desensitized by the first hour of the movie that they would have to do something so graphic and visceral, no pun intended, as to take the crown away from the Reservoir Dogs torture scene as the Most-Censored-By-Blockbuster bit on the shelves. And it leads right into the "Tell my folks I fought well today" scene, telegraphed so clumsily that it could have been replaced by a silent-movie-style tinny piano music and a dialogue card reading "WAR DEATH CLICHÉ SCENE #4"... so people who rent from Blockbuster probably won't be missing much.)

But as horrific as the past two-and-a-half hours were, I still think it was better than being in the same house as the Super Bowl.

Now is it over?

17:00 - Ahh, Super Bowl Sunday...

... Which means I'll be out elsewhere for the afternoon. Probably seeing Black Hawk Down or something. That'll be nice and depressing. But that won't last long enough... maybe I'll see it twice if it's good. Or maybe I'll go up into the hills and take some photos; no, it's smoggy today. Crap.

Well, I'll be somewhere other than here. The shrieking has already begun. <Homer>And that's my cue to exit...</Homer>

16:50 - We're sorry, Japan! We really are!

Topsy Turvy was on one of the movie channels yesterday-- it's the movie about Gilbert and Sullivan and how The Mikado came to be written. It's a fun movie-- a great little glimpse, whether accurate or not, into the lives of the pompous, straight-laced lyric writer and his long-suffering composer. It also provides a look at the weird fascination Britain had with Japan at the end of the nineteenth century-- a fascination that led, predictably, to some really stupid presuppositions and a comic opera that shaped Europe's idea of Japan as some funky bastardization of China for decades to come.

I think Japan looked at The Mikado, boggled, reeled for about thirty years, and then said, "Okay, let's get back at those people." Thus was anime born.

Hey, I'm not really being facetious here. What would you do if a bunch of Martians came down to America, looked around smiling bewilderedly and saying things like "How extraordinary! So vulgar, yet so fascinating!", took some Americans on board their starship to study them, make them sing American songs, walk like Americans, dress like Americans, put on little stage shows so the Martians could titter and golf-clap... and then they sent you home and put on a musical production about "The Americans"-- people who dress like Beefeaters with Buckingham Palace shakos, with computers in their chests, miniature conestoga wagons on their feet, and with names like "Grundlebone Ycrberg" and "Slobber-Fabigus", all about how Americans are circus performers who wear funny clothes and shoot each other for sport but otherwise behave just like Martians-- well, you'd be a little put out, wouldn't you? In fact, you might be so taken aback that you'd just sit and wonder for thirty years, and then put on some ridiculous productions about the Martians?

I mean, come on. One has only to look at the subtitle of The Mikado to see what I'm talking about: "The Town of Titipu". And look at the characters' names: Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo. Ko-Ko. Katisha. Pish-Tush. Who wouldn't be offended by this? It's like G&S couldn't be bothered to figure out the difference between China and Japan-- and while the whole show is a ridiculous show of ignorance about any of the culture that they were so ostensibly fascinated by, it's made worse by the fact that the story is just a transplanted British idea done with funny clothes. I mean, why bother-- unless your specific purpose was to mock a culture that seemed just alien and faraway enough that they wouldn't mind? Like posting websites making fun of the Amish, because they'll never find out?

So I think that anime, with its giant eyeballs and its big spiky multicolored hair and its giant exploding space robots, is directly intended as a retaliatory strike against the West-- it's their way of getting back at us. Certainly much more effective in the long term than bombing our military bases.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize, on behalf of the British of the 1890s, for The Mikado. We're sorry... we're really sorry. We've seen a lot of anime now, and we get the joke now. Ha ha, well done. Nicely played-- you sure got us there. Boy, there's egg on our faces.

In any case, I guess I'm not really that much of a fan of musical theater, new or old; the only modern production I've really enjoyed and respected is The Scarlet Pimpernel. Sure, theater is a really fun experience, and a good way to get away from the crap of daily life. But some of it, even the supposed classics, really stink.

14:46 - Hasselblad Digital Camera.... <Homer Drooling Noise>


Recently described as "the Rolls-Royce of digital cameras", the DFinity is nothing you want to try to dangle around with the strap figure-eighted around your wrist. Like all Hasselblad cameras (I just found all this out last night, so don't consider me any kind of expert) the design is retro and doesn't go to any great lengths in favor of miniaturization, because the focus (hee) of the camera's mission is image quality. It takes 2048x2048 images using the CMOS sensor technology that's going into the top-end cameras like the D1 from Canon, as opposed to the CCD sensors traditionally used; the advantage of CMOS is that in low-light conditions, the image artifacts tend to look like film grain, rather than JPEG blockiness.

Inside the camera is a Foveon-developed imager head that incorporates 3 sensors and a color separating prism. The prism is designed so that light entering it is split into red, green and blue components and then focused on each of three 2Kx2K CMOS sensors. Using a prism greatly enhances the system's ability to capture color that is purer than that captured by single-chip single-shot cameras using mosaic filters to create a color image. Further, by placing sensors on each of the 3 prism exit faces, the color of each point in the subject is sampled by three pixels (one red, one green and one blue).

The alternative color mosaic filter method that is used in all other one shot digital cameras, samples the color using only one pixel and guesses at what the other two might be.

The DFinity doesn't have internal storage, apparently; you keep it hooked up at all times to your laptop with FireWire, which allows it to snap a picture and transmit all 12MB of data and become ready for the next shot in 1.5 seconds. All the camera's functionality is controlled through the software on the computer, which works on Windows or Mac, and can even run from across a SMB or AppleTalk network. It's intended for studio professionals and photo artists, not for people taking snapshots of birthday parties. That's good, because while a price isn't listed, it's sure to be in the four digits and pushing five.

But... just look at the sample images they have for download. There's the obligatory cat (a cat seems to be the standard unit of measure for digicam image quality), fruit, and supermodel, as well as several others that look like potential desktop pictures.

Mmmm... sweet.

05:42 - Infantile Humor


Saw this in the restroom at Navy Pier in Chicago; it's times like that that I'm glad I have my camera handy. Hooray for palm-sized Nikon digicams!

04:39 - A Voice of Reason From Across the Pond

Well, shut my mouth. It seems that there's a genuinely intelligent and insightful voice in among the crowd-- a Spectator columnist by the name of Theodore Dalrymple who has noticed some very key, original points. For one, young Muslim males growing up in unsavory, backwater British towns like Tipton (where two of the Guantanamo prisoners grew up) find actualization through the same Westernized means as their friends do (eating McDonald's and wearing Nikes), leading to guilt in the face of their non-Western traditions and a desire to lash out in compensatory reaction:

And yet they could not simply reproduce their fathers’ mental world. They were part modern British too, with many of the same debased tastes as their white contemporaries. They would listen to the same music, eat the same fast food, play the same games. (One sign of the acculturation of Asian youth is the adoption of body-piercing and tattooing, the latter despite the natural unsuitability of Asian skin for it.) They would be attracted by the same baubles, such as mobile phones and designer trainers; but they would feel guilty about their lack of cultural purity. From guilty desire and surreptitious identification it is but a short step to insensate hatred and rage; and perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that the three most rabidly anti-Yankee Latin American countries — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — are those in which the most baseball is played.

And secondly, that Western intellectualism-- whether in Europe or America-- consists of hip self-hatred, because anybody who says anything patriotic or positive about McDonald's and Disneyland is obviously a shallow-minded bigot:

So all Asif and Shafiq ever knew of Western civilisation was Tipton and its discontents. And they were deliberately kept from any deeper knowledge of our civilisation by the kind of ideological self-hatred that has been so strong a current of British (and Western) intellectual life for the last three or more decades, that precludes any pedagogic affirmation of the Western tradition. This self-hatred explains in part the kind of hatred (and contempt) that the Asifs and Shafiqs of Britain, of whom I suspect there are uncomfortably many, must feel. Not only does the ideological self-hatred of Western intellectuals prevent the likes of Asif and Shafiq from learning anything of the Western tradition, other than Radio One and McDonald’s, but it actually supplies them with the tropes with which to justify their pre-existing anger and violence.

Needless to say, the self-hatred of Western intellectuals is not genuine or sincere: they do not really want to beat our supermarkets into souks, as swords into ploughshares (though I must say that, from the human point of view, I personally do prefer souks to supermarkets). Rather, the intellectual’s expression of self-hatred is directed at other Western intellectuals, to prove the self-hater’s broadness of mind, moral superiority and lack of prejudice, and thus earn the approval of his peers. It isn’t only rebellious youth who experience peer pressure; and anyone who pointed out, for example, that for a very long time now the Western medical tradition has been incomparably superior to all other medical traditions in the world combined and multiplied a thousandfold, would forfeit approval, even though what he said was true, and obviously so.

When a child of seven asks, "Why do they hate us?" we would do well to ponder these points. They hate us because we hate us. We're a hate-worthy culture... or else we would act more like we like being us, right? Just look at all these movie critics railing against fart jokes, computer nerds complaining about Microsoft (heh), vegetarians carrying signs outside slaughterhouses, people who refuse to vote because "it only encourages them"?

I've never been a very patriotic person. Part of this is precisely the attitude that Dalrymple points out-- it's hip to hate the West, or at least to feel vaguely guilty about being part of it. But ever since 9/11, the resurgence of patriotism in the US is attributable at least in large part to the fact that nobody here really seems to be feeling that urge to bash ourselves pointlessly anymore. In the vacuum left by that bashing is what looks like jingoism, but is really just self-assurance, confidence that-- you know, we're really not so bad after all.

I wonder how much of the terrorists' mindset can really be traced to this psychology: "Americans have so much money and power, but they despise themselves and call their own culture morally bankrupt. If we destroy their symbols of power, we will not only be fighting the jihad for Islam's sake, we will be cleansing the West-- for the West's own sake!"

And I have to wonder whether all this could have been staved off if we'd all just been a little more visibly proud of who we are and what we've accomplished?

Ah well. If this is the lesson we learn-- that we don't have to flee like Fitzgerald and sip coffee in cafés in strange countries and sniff about the decadence and moral degradation and cultural imperialism of our native country in order to be taken seriously as intellectuals-- then the 3,000 people who died in the World Trade Center are a pretty small price compared to what we paid in the 1940s or the 1860s or the 1770s to learn the same lesson.
Saturday, February 2, 2002
03:55 - A Cautionary Note

Moira Breen of Inappropriate Response has a checklist of advice to people who write stupid editorials or blogs about the war and Those Damned Americans:

If you find yourself incapable of writing a column which isn't a rehash and reordering of some or all of the following themes, you, my friend, have nothing of substance to say:

1) You have an uncontrollable urge to nakedly display your scientific and political ignorance by invoking Kyoto as unassailable evidence of America's selfish, childish refusal to behave like a responsible member of the world community. (You don't know carbon dioxide from Carmen Electra, but you do know how those Americans are...)

Plus a bunch more, all of which are (of course) represented in a Guardian article which she carefully deconstructs tired-old-argument by tired-old-argument. If you're American, read it and enjoy. If you're not, this is a pretty good summary of the War Thus Far: all the overseas anti-war anti-unilateralism rhetoric neatly collapsed into a single Big-Gulp-sized measure, easily corralled and contained for Breen to smash into itty bitty pieces.

03:36 - "...And a great way to get to work."

I just saw a Dodge commercial in which the entire Dodge lineup, all in the new trademark red, went barreling through tunnels and over bridges and through just-wet-enough-to-produce-a-roostertail race courses, with cars flipping into the air and leaping over each other; and at the very end, they all line up outside a hangar and a squadron of fighter jets swoops down through it and whooshes out past the camera.

Suddenly I was struck by an image of what it must have been like in the pitch room of the ad agency:

"And then all five cars are lined up outside the hangar, each one next to an F-15; the camera's trucking back like this, see, so you can see them all sequentially. Yeah-- and then a face-on shot of the hangar, the camera pans up, and you see the F-15s dropping down out of the sky, they come down into the hangar and fly through, see, and right out past the camera, one by one, with the cars sitting down below. Then cut to the slogan card, and out."

Can you picture an ad-man from the 60s sitting in on this session? Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?

These kinds of effects were once-- not so very long ago-- leaps and bounds beyond even the reach of filmmakers like Lucas, even given a budget the size of Western Europe's GDP and five years to do it. And now a lowest-bidder ad agency can do it for a thirty-second spot in six weeks with off-the-shelf software, and it gets run at 1:30AM in between episodes of Battlebots.

What's more, this ad is pretty darn cool. It's over-the-top, even gratuitously so, but it's also conscious of itself-- it knows it's overboard, it knows the audience knows it's overboard, so it doesn't even bother trying to appeal to one's sense of reason or rationality. It just goes all-out. But then, on the movie screen, we have Planet of the Apes.

Many have speculated about how advertising is the force which will permeate every aspect of our lives from breakfast to dreamtime, from cradle to grave. But, well, speculation is moot-- it's already right here. Why bother making a good movie when an ad is so much more effective?

21:20 - al Qaidamon



As has happened so frequently in the post-9/11 world, political commentary takes the form of instant audio/visual/interactive comedy. We've had the "Come, Mister Taliban" movie; we've had the satires on The Onion, we've had the Osama's Convenience Store game, we've had a hundred little Flash movies. And now we have... another one.

This one, "al Qaidamon", takes the controversy surrounding the Guantanamo prisoners and lets the average Joe get a much more first-person interactive idea of what it's like than he would get just reading CNN, The Mirror, and the various warbloggers' opinions.

Note to the easily offended: You may want to pass this one up.

20:42 - Hey, it's been a while since I made an Xbox post...

... And that in itself is blogworthy.

I haven't seen any ads for Xbox games on TV in... oh, I don't know, several weeks. Maybe they've all migrated to other channels, but I certainly haven't been seeing them on Cartoon Network lately, which is where I spend most of my time. I also haven't seen any buzz about it on websites, or the news services, or in magazines.

Sure, the Christmas season is over now... but I remember the Xbox ads going on for at least several days after Christmas. So... does that mean Microsoft had simply miscalculated how many days remained until people stopped buying gifts? Or-- oh, wait! I know. They kept running game ads because kids would have received Xboxes for Christmas, but with no games! So they had to keep running the game ads, or else how would they know what to buy?

Well, that seems to be all over now, and it's only the beginning of February. I take that to be a very promising sign-- or at the very least, it's indicative of a pullback. It means the worst is over.

And primarily, it means I can watch TV in safety now, without the worry that I'd hear that black-surface-puncturing-in-the-shape-of-an-X crunching sound. The only place I have to worry about the occasional Xbox-flag-waving land-mine is over at Lileks.
Friday, February 1, 2002
19:30 - Dude, you're going to Hell!

CNN, unfathomably, has a whole feature on Ben Curtis, the "Dell Guy". You know, from those ads that are just about as obnoxious and spare-no-expense-to-make-it-look-low-budget as the 1-800-COLLECT ads with Carrot Top.

I could wax poetic on my opinions of these ads until the wax coats my face and I could remove my facial hair by peeling it all off at once, but AtAT has already done that for me. And they spared my face, even.

Blaugh. Yeah, America's a great melting pot and all that. But damn, we could sure use some taste.

18:53 - Yeah, that's what I was trying to say.

From Victor David Hanson:

The more Americans find out more about Wahhabism, the Saudi royal family, the Dickensian Pakistani street, the Iranian mullahs, what Mr. Arafat really says in Arabic, Afghani warlords, the public parades of future Hamas murderers in Lebanon, and the Pravda-like nature of al Jazeera — the more they are shocked to learn that the multiculturalists, not the traditionalists in our schools, were the great deceivers. How ironic that multiculturalism demanded romance — not reason, parochialism — not inquisitiveness, and prejudice — not impartiality.

The rejection of a multiracial society united by a common adherence to Western values has formed the canon of our educational system for the last two decades. We were to embrace a "mosaic" of unassimilated special-interest groups rather than the blend of the melting pot. But throughout this war we have seen the horrific wages of nations that are not really nations at all, but simply tribes of competing ethnicities, religions, and races whose traditions promote private agendas, rather than freedom and tolerance.

If we didn't learn from the horror in Bosnia and Kosovo, then at least we should have seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, and elsewhere these last few years that wherever people give allegiance to skin color, religion, language, and tribe first, and the common culture second — corpses pile up.

If I had been more awake and better read, this is what I would have said last night. Or at least tried to.

I've never been a fan of PC-ness, though I've always been careful to give all cultures a fair shake-- there is a difference. And now, only now that we've seen how ridiculous are such gestures as turning the flag-raising statue proposal from what happened at the WTC site into a breakfast-cereal cultural triumvirate (Bobby the blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian; Lamar the idiom-free Black kid; and interchangeably Pedro the Hispanic or Siu the Asian)-- we've just about had enough.

The point of Hanson's article, to distill it into a sound bite, is that some groups of people just plain suck-- and treating the dynamiting of cliffside Buddhas as "just one culture's way of expressing itself" makes the world a worse place no matter what yardstick you use to measure it.

The American ideal-- and it's an ideal, mind you, and not perfectly realized, which is almost part of the definition-- is that regardless of where all the people living here came from, they all come to think of themselves as Americans, not as displaced Hispanics or Africans or Europeans or Asians. The people I mentioned in last night's post who run their businesses and raise their kids here-- they don't do it because they plan to go back to their native countries someday. (Some do, most don't.) Their native countries had serious problems, especially compared to here-- that's why they left. These people are willing to give up their national identity, their traditions of life and marriage, even their surnames, for the prospect of living under the American ideal; when they do that, they become Americans not by the act of giving up their nationalities, but by wanting to.

In this sense, "American" takes on much the same connotation as "Zionist". Not necessarily someone who lives in the US, but someone who lives here in spirit.

The Vikings were one of the most culturally malleable nations in history. Wherever they settled, they tossed aside Wotan and Freya and Ragnarok, and adopted the local traditions-- whether Christian, Slavic, proto-Newfie, or even Muslim. They did this because they realized there were nicer places to live than in the ice-bound fjords. Wherever they went, they brought ambition and energy and strengthened the nations into which they miscegenated. When they talk about "hybrid vigor" in dog breeding or crop genetics, it's a concept that's just as applicable to cultures: Cultural incest leads to stagnation, but cross-pollination leads to new ideas, innovation, strength, and longevity.

Countries that base their identities upon language, religion, and bloodline will always decry those that promote the "melting pot" ideal-- but they will be doing it from the sidelines while the melting-pot countries pass them by. America isn't a perfect melting pot, not by a long shot. We're still very multicultural and insular, as I said last night. But those pockets of cultural homogeneity do accrete from each other, over time, and the long-term trend is toward the melting pot, not away. And it's the fact that we have lots of money and lots of pan-cultural icons of consumption (McDonald's, Disneyland, Coke) that makes that possible. It's not such a bad thing after all, looked at that way.

So is this the long-overdue end of the PC era? Hanson thinks so, and I hope he's right. Does this mean we'll stop seeing Bobby/Lamar/Pedro-ism on cereal boxes anytime soon? Maybe not. But if before 9/11 they had been planning to do so, at least we won't be seeing them multiculturalize the Rice Krispies elves.

17:25 - Ho ho...


Hoo-kay. That one's a "swish".

04:42 - This Time For Sure...

Over the past several weeks, USS Clueless has posted a series of essays in defense of America as a concept true to its founding ideals; some posts have been more provoked than others, and den Beste's challenge throughout the period has been to word his feelings in a way that gets the point across without sounding overly jingoistic or defensive. The resulting series of essays are exactly that, in the original French sense: essais, or "attempts" to convey the point in the most effective way possible.

Well, here's the latest essay.
The United States is made up of people whose ancestors hated Europe. They came here to get away from what Europe stood for; they came here because they wanted something different. And they were resolved not to let this nation become another Europe, because they'd seen the worst Europe had to offer.


Some of them revolted against European domination and created a nation built on a different philosophy. Others came later and joined it because they liked what it stood for. The most patriotic Americans have always been its first generation immigrants.


It is no wonder that the Europeans are bewildered by the US, and vaguely frustrated. They expect the US to be New Germany, or New France, or New England. But even New England isn't actually; Boston is not New London, and New Hampshire isn't Hampshire recreated on American soil. New York bears no resemblance to York. New Jersey is nothing like Jersey. Those are only names; the reality is that America is now alien.

The point here that he's trying to get across would be just as well aimed at white supremacists and their ilk within the US: America is not, and never has been, the Land of the WASP. It's not less so now than it was at some point in the past, nor is it more so. Only at the very beginning, when the mother country that we were fighting was Britain-- purely by accident of colonization-- was a European (or English) ascendancy evident. Almost immediately afterwards, as soon as it became clear what the Constitution was promoting, the US in its current form began to emerge: the Coalition Culture.

The only reason America looks like a white, European nation-- to those who expect to see it as such-- is that within the greater framework of the country, cultural groups do still insularize to a remarkable degree. White people living in San Marino don't go into Compton or the Pasadena Arroyo, except in very fast cars on the freeways. So it's very easy to pretend that those pockets of culture don't exist, or are irrelevant. But to the people living there, the WASPs are just as remote, and just as removed from their everyday concept of "America" as they are to the WASPs.

This effect of insularity is amplified each time a WASP ignores the reality of the Sikhs making his Subway sandwich, the Chinese guy to whom he pays his rent, the Indians and Pakistanis programming with him at work, the Vietnamese running the successful PC hardware shops where he buys his office's computers, and the newly-ascendant Black culture that has finally begun to penetrate to all levels of social management from unskilled labor all the way up through corporate management and political office.

(Sure, I'm generalizing-- but I also mean to point out that many cultures do gravitate towards certain professions. It's a stereotype to suggest that Jews work the financial system, but there's historical and cultural support for such a statement, like it or not-- niches are only pejorative if someone decides to craft them that way through hateful propaganda.)

The KKK can keep those blinders on all they like and go on pretending that America is Meant for the European; but just as we look back at 1955 and see Marty McFly and Doc Brown rather than Joe McCarthy and people getting fired over the suspicion of associating with someone who was suspected of being a Communist, people who think the United States were ever "purely" comprised of one particular cultural group are worshipping a fantasy world that never existed. History wears blinders just as well as people do.

...So anyway, that's what America is about. You could put all the cultures in the world onto a wheel and rotate them one to the left, and then take North America and fill it with people from the rotated culture wheel-- populating it from 1750 with Vietnamese settlers and statesmen, importing British and Irish and Russian slaves to pick cotton in the South, with Blacks and Hispanics and Chinese and Muslims pouring voluntarily into Staten Island over the years and Indians entering through San Francisco to build the railroads and pan for gold-- and the concept of the nation would be exactly the same.

In fact, that alternate America of 2002 probably wouldn't look all that different from what we have today.

We're a country built upon an ideal, not upon a people. The people come here for the ideal, and the ideal is what makes them Americans. Europe expects a country to be an aggregation of people who speak the same language and share a common ancestry, whatever the country's government and social structure might be like. But to us, the government and social structure are all-important, and language and ancestry are incidental.

This is not jingoism or patriotic bluster. These essays from den Beste and his contemporaries are just trying to set the record straight for the benefit of the European politicians and columnists who just don't seem to get it.
Thursday, January 31, 2002
01:17 - Seanbaby...?


I was waiting for my car to finish being washed over at the place I usually go to on Stevens Creek Blvd., where they have a nice gazebo with magazines and things to read. One of them that was sitting there in a big pile of take-em-they're-free copies was The Wave, a Peninsula/South Bay/Santa Cruz metro-life rag. You know the kind-- the ones that run "Life in Hell" and "Tokyo New York", and where the personal ads have really entertaining entries (especially in "Other seeking Other").

So imagine my surprise when I pick up one of these copies and flip through it-- only to find an article by the one and only Seanbaby. It's a bizarre, paranoid, surrealist little piece entitled "Attack Monkeys Are Planning to Attack You".

Recently in New Delhi, a monkey boarded a bus and "pretended to read a newspaper for the entire hour-long ride." If this doesn't seem odd to you, chances are you'll be the first victim once they organize their super monkey army.

Funny, dirty, and lavishly illustrated-- and it seems not to be located on his website anywhere. So does this mean he writes for biweekly metro print rags in his spare time? Or is this his day job?

And does this mean I'll have to keep picking up copies of The Wave just to find out?

01:04 - Spare a talent for an old ex-leper?

Hiker has started his own blog recently, and this post explains why.

I wish I had a cool story from my past that I remembered in detail and could use as a justification for all the bizarre stuff I do...

22:48 - I am superior! I am here to protect you!

Woo-hooooo! I've finally taken the time to sit down and code some of the grungiest, ugliest, crappiest, hackiest Perl on top of a band-aid on top of a badly written substrate done when I was first learning how to write more than glorified guest-book scripts.... ever.

The fan-art movie file uploader is now automated, to put it another way.

So now, when artists upload movies, checking a checkbox which uploads them into a different sort of system that's not automatable like still images are, I no longer have to manually download the movie, pick out a still frame, upload it, make a thumbnail, fix the permissions... then insert the still image through the existing approval system, go into the database command-line, manually update the filename and file type and file size... and then manually delete the still frame from the prepared ZIP and insert the actual movie file, and then update all the permissions, and then test it to make sure I didn't break anything.

<pant> <pant> <pant>

... Right. So now, when someone uploads a movie, the approval list shows it-- but it gives me an uploading form so I can download the movie, pick out a still frame, and upload it. Then, I approve it like any other file. No fuss, no muss-- just a couple of temp files on my local machine to throw away.

Yes... I know this is quite possibly the least interesting blog entry I have yet made. But I had to write it down, and it's my blog. So nyah.

20:55 - State of the Onion

I didn't watch the State of the Union address, largely because I knew I would get the gist of it from various sources in the following days-- and I have. And as an extra bonus, I get to see a whole spectrum of biased, often funny opinions about it-- but not the actual source material itself. Can an entire speech be pieced together from subsequent reactions and commentary from all sides? Probably not, but it's kinda fun to try.

On the one extreme, you've got James Lileks, who defends Bush with the same zeal as he defends the new iMac-- some might describe it as "sucked in by PR" or "the stubbornness of the convert", but sometimes a guy just gets sick of hearing his side get picked on. And at the other extreme is Sgt. Stryker's interesting play-by-play of the speech-- focusing not on the actual content, but on the presentation. Follow the link and see. It's entertaining.

You're going to find all kinds of opinions here in this country, even today. The "voice of America" is a myth. No one person speaks for everybody. We are a people who love our satire and our comedy, and yet we demand to see ass kicked when it needs kicking-- we're happy to put the comedy on hold while it's not appropriate, but a month later it's back and stronger than ever. (Lots more new material to play with, after all.) Meanwhile, those who take the task of commentary deadly seriously will cluck about such inappropriate aspersions (as does Lileks in the link above), while using their own weapons in defense-- which as often as not turn out to be humor as well.

You know, the fact is that none of us know what to make of each new political emergence as soon as we become aware of it. Sometimes our reptile brain will take over before we have a chance to analyze it-- and the first reaction out of our mouths is shaped by the reactions that others have already registered. We can't help that. We can't all be omniscient. Sometimes we'll sigh about the old days of journalism, when war footage was shot on film and disseminated to the public in newsreels in movie theaters. Journalism had to be in-depth and well-researched and contextually relevant and had to survive for at least a week. But in the gotta-post-it-now whirlwind of the blog world, sometimes you get the most accurate view of all into the heart and soul of a nation: the unrehearsed reactions of its concerned citizens.

Yeah, Bush was probably drunk when he choked on that pretzel. He's a Texan watching football. Yes, we should be respectful of the man in this time of severe trial. And yes, we should all salute every "Make no mistake" that falls from his mouth with a chugalug and a handful of Rold Gold.

These aren't mutually exclusive aims. They're the spectrum of being American.
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
22:47 - Okay, so I'm a wuss. Shut up.

Okay, yeah, San Jose's entry into the winter-wonderland contest is pretty pitiful compared to Chicago's, which is captured here by Marcus Aanerud.

Hey, we take what we can get in these parts... :)

22:36 - Well, it's melted now, but...

Yeah, yeah, no wiseass comments about the page theme. I was just fiddling around with iPhoto and iTools and had to tweak a few knobs. I feel so... pandered to.

Anyway, here are the photos I took on Monday morning of the new snow on the San Jose hills. Enjoy! I know I did.

19:47 - Now That's Targeted Marketing.

Today in the seminar, one of my co-workers had a cup from Starbucks. I couldn't help but notice just how carefully engineered the cup's various features were:
  • Printed on the side was a mini-story entitled "Caring For Those who Grow Our Coffee", describing how Starbucks sponsors a children's program in Kenya called "Pied Crow". I couldn't read all of it, because of the...
  • Insulating sleeve made of rough cardboard, wrapped around about 1/3 of the cup.
  • On the sleeve was printed, "This insulating sleeve is made from 60% post-consumer recycled materials, and represents 45% of the material that would have been used by a second paper cup."
  • Both the sleeve and the cup itself had a message reading, "Careful-- The beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!"

All-righty then. Let's recap: Starbucks can pretty much bank on the fact that its customers are: (a) Concerned about the rain forests and the plight of exploited third-world cultures; and (b) rich and prim and stupid enough to be a risk for suing Starbucks in case their coffee turns out to be hot, as with the infamous McDonald's Coffee Woman.

In other words, it's a coffee shop for Marketing Droids.

I knew there was a reason I could never stand being inside a Starbucks for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

19:38 - Must be an interesting day in the GM and Ford boardrooms...

So it seems that our little recession is already just about ready to turn around, according to Greenspan-- and we can chalk that up in large part to the fact that lots of Americans bought cars in the past three months, taking advantage of those 0% financing offers that the auto makers put forth after September 11.

I'm told, first of all, that while this car-buying atmosphere has buoyed consumer confidence (the really important thing to watch when it comes to gathering economic intelligence), the car makers are still in danger of collapse-- because without the finance charges that they normally get to collect, they're losing money on each sale. Cars are being bought in record quantities, but the car makers are in danger of going under.

I wonder how true this is. Have they maybe raised MSRPs a little bit to cover their costs since then? Did they release the 0% financing offers of their own free will, or under pressure from lawmakers?

And what I really want to know is, what must it be like to be an executive at the head of one of the automakers right now-- knowing that this program has in large part saved the US economy, but at the expense of his own company's health?

Do the auto makers get to play this PR card now-- they're big generous philanthropic bodies who put the health of the economy above their own, according to the publicity that they could run. They could even possibly get away with it. I don't know how well Americans would take to such a thing. Knowing how much we respect some Big Business, we might eat it up. Or it might get lost in the noise, just as likely.

Hey, thanks for Keeping America Rolling, guys. You can stop now, though. We don't need a repeat of the airline industry here, or of the 80s...

19:18 - Shaolin Kung Fu is Wonderful!


Last night I saw Shaolin Soccer, a kung-fu comedy from Stephen Chow, the director who brought us The God of Cookery (which I still haven't seen-- but I know I must, soon).

And what a hoot it was. I'm not entirely sure why, though. The style of slapstick humor is really very different in texture from what we're used to here, but I can recognize and appreciate it as humor; but what's particularly special about its humor style is where it differs so spectacularly from Western-style slapstick. Sure, a lot of giggles arise from the bad Engrish subtitles, but more come from scenes like the star player gradually building up his striking power kicking a ball against a target painted on a wall-- every successive shot, he's standing further back and hitting more accurately, until finally he's standing about 100 yards away and blasting it repeatedly into the bulls-eye with enough speed and force to dig a crater into it.

It's got a lot in common with Jackie Chan's comic martial-arts, and it's an interesting experiment to slow down and think about why it seems to funny to us (and to wonder whether it's funnier to us, in all its alien nature, than for the Chinese market for whom such movies are primarily targeted). What do we find so hysterical? It's the time-tested "surprise in the face of your expectations" concept that's at the basis of pretty much all humor, but in this case it's surprise at how artfully some physical feat is accomplished, or with how much power or complexity or speed. The surprise registers because we're expecting something more pedestrian, I guess-- we expect to see a fist-fighting slugfest or a soccer ball that obeys the natural laws of physics, so when we instead get a guy running straight up the crack between two walls or a guy blowing the goalie straight through the back of the goal or using kung-fu to clip hedges or avoid slipping on a banana peel (a Western gag re-imagined through cross-cultural pollination), we can't contain our gales of laughter.

Whatever the basis for it all, it's just a riot. Go rent it now if you have a soft spot at all for that good ol' Jackie Chan style of humor.

Oh-- and for any Hans Zimmer fans out there, pay close attention to the score-- particularly right at the climactic moment, when Mui the goalie stops the Evil Team's inexorable strike and prepares to launch her return. The music right there, for about thirty seconds, is structurally lifted straight from The Lion King. The chord progression is very similar, and the last four bars are almost identical, to the same triumphant moment in Zimmer's score. Just a little bit of trivia that I couldn't help noting-- especially since (I'm told) I'm not the first person to have noticed this...

10:18 - But oddly enough, I could eat Taco Bell every day of my life and be happy...

Lance made a huge quantity of lasagna on Sunday to handle the inevitable swarm of people crashing after the con (most didn't show up after all).

So we ate lasagna Sunday, we ate leftover lasagna on Monday, and yesterday at the three-day project management seminar I'm attending, lunch was lasagna.

Yergh. Now, I like lasagna and all, but... urp.
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
21:22 - Oh good, I'm not the only one who thinks like this...


Good ol' FoxTrot. Somehow I can always trust it to fit right in with my own sense of humor-- even going so far as to do jokes about integrals and Tolkien.
Monday, January 28, 2002
00:22 - George Lucas, it's Time to Shut the Hell Up

Yesterday, A&E showed a special all about George Lucas-- how he came from humble comic-book-geek beginnings to become one of the most powerful and most respected filmmakers of our time.

What is this, a commercial for the guy?

Sure, maybe Lucas was a great filmmaker, one who shook up the world-- right up until the 90s got started. Sure, Star Wars and its sequels had become pretty much the universal default "Movie"-- the first example of the concept that springs to mind when you mention the word. But then he sort of vaporized and faded away, never to be heard from again.

...Until, that is, 1999.

Oh, the anticipation with which we awaited Episiode 1. The trailers, the effects, the-- well, not quite sure what that floppy-eared-looking guy was about, but-- the effects! The action! The explosions! Darth Vader as a kid! How could it possibly miss?

And then we saw it... and we stared in gaping horror and confusion. Was that ... it? That? Was George Lucas even involved? No... surely not. It couldn't have been that bad. It couldn't possibly. Let's go back and see it again-- maybe in a different theater, with different friends. Maybe take different drugs beforehand. Maybe even leave off the Darth Maul costume we'd built based on the .014-second clips of him in the trailers. Let's look at this thing. Maybe we just missed something.

... But no, it didn't get any better the second time around, or the third. That... thing was still in it, the "Me so solly!" apparition of Nickeloden-esque fart jokes personified into a Lucasian alien. The video game was still in it-- the pod race, which took some fifteen minutes of screen time and featured two-headed announcers (yelling, of course, "That's gotta hurt!"). And the mitochondria thing-- 'scuse me, midichlorians. That's right, the Force is no longer a mystical power flowing through the Universe. It's an amphetamine manufactured by your cells that can be counted by a detector from the bridge of Voyager.

Look, I don't care what you say: George Lucas was not involved in this monstrosity of a movie. Sure, the guy sitting behind the camera operators was named George Lucas, but it wasn't the same man. Not by a long shot. He didn't even remember meeting the real George Lucas, whenever that took place. The memory had been lost.

This was the guy who "improved" the first three Star Wars episodes (IV, V, and VI, that is) by adding fart jokes, extreeeeeme camera angles (like sticking it down the throat of the newly-CG bar singer), and robots swatting each other out of the air in Mos Eisley.

The man responsible for that was not the same man who did THX 1138, and no matter how much DNA evidence you show me, I won't buy it.

Episode 1 demonstrated one thing: George Lucas (the new one, that is) doesn't let anything interfere with his artistic and creative vision; he doesn't listen to anything his underlings tell him-- not about merchandising, not about tie-ins, not about tailoring the storyline to match people's toilet-humor expectations... just like the old one. However, the new guy demonstrates his independence and autocratic zeal by taking merchandising and tie-ins and butt jokes to a level no underling would ever suggest. Pod Racer video game? Out before the movie hit theater screens. Toys and action figures? Impossible to avoid. An all-summer-long Taco Bell/Pizza Hut/KFC/Pepsico ad blitz extravaganza? Overpowering beyond the limits of anybody's previously sighted limits. Sure, the guy's a rebel and a visionary. He even sees dollar signs where the marketing weasels don't.

So now apparently A&E has decided to run an hour-long ad of the new "George Lucas", presumably to help remind us all of how great this guy is, and how dare we be horrified at his masterwork-- especially now that Episode II is about to be released? Remember, this is George LucasTM! The comic-book geek who grew up to be the Idol of Millions! Changer of Worlds! Owner of Your Wallet's Destiny! Just like Bill Gates-- the American Dream of rising from humble, wimpy, nerdy beginnings to world domination is personified in this oh-so-humble man, who so graciously gave his consent to be profiled in our meager little A&E special.

You know what, "George Lucas"? I'm giving Episode II one chance... and if it doesn't demonstrate to me within one half-hour that you have released the real George Lucas from his dank cell and given him back his identification documents and clothes and belongings, I'm not going to watch Episode III. And I'll consider George Lucas' career to have ended with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And even there we should have seen the decay beginning to set in.

Hiker reminds me:

The decay set in long before Last Crusade, my friend. The decay was in full swing by Temple of Doom. In my very humble opinion that movie is MUCH worse than Episode I. Why? Four reasons:

1: The special effects are lousy, lacking the seamlessness of Raiders.
2: The story makes no godamn sense whatsoever. It's one disconnected event leading to another until the budget ran out.
3: Irritating racist charicature for a child sidekick.
4: Irritating and whiny love interest that I seriously wanted to kill before the end of her opening song number.

Too true... too true.

23:27 - Snow Over San Jose

It's very odd that just yesterday I speculatively mentioned a dusting of snow on the mountains surrounding Silicon Valley, up where the observatories are.

Like... this?

San Jose is far enough south to have palm trees and far enough north to have pine trees-- and to have a picturesque snow day once or twice a year. That's more than up in the Ukiah area, where I grew up; and for me, that just means more to enjoy.

It didn't get much above freezing today, either-- and tonight the snow level is supposed to come down even further. Tomorrow I'll have to get some good photos.

It's time to go skiing...

18:49 - Vinyl Lives...


Vinyl records will never die, as long as we hold their memory in our hearts. <sniff>

...Or wait. No, surely this that I see is... no, maybe it's-- but no! It's ... it's... a laser vinyl turntable!

Priced modestly from $13,500 to $23,500, this state-of-the-art audio device plays vinyl records using only a laser beam-- no needle to skip and damage the record, and no clumsy dependence on gravity and sensitivity to jolts. Why, this technology might even be safe for in-dash car players!

Uhhhh....huh. Well, I suppose it's heartwarming that there's a market for this stuff still, and that it's still a hotbed of innovation. But still-- dang. In the age of MP3, the people who complain about the sound quality of CDs as opposed to vinyl are starting to sound even sillier.

I'm not saying they're wrong, mind you. Just that they sound silly.
Sunday, January 27, 2002
03:23 - Vague Simmering Discomfort

The above link leads to the "Technology" rant by 2, and as always, those who follow it should be aware of nasty language and other such bear-traps for the unwary. Don't be unwary.

I normally enjoy 2's rants very much. I agree almost entirely with just about all of them, and that's not purely because they're all very entertaining, which they are. They have a way of getting into your brain, disarming you with humor, and pasting their point all over your frontal lobe while it's unarmed and gasping for breath.

But the "Technology" rant is the only one (so far) that I really feel uncomfortable about. Its premise, and I don't think it's tongue-in-cheek, is that going outside and doing "real stuff" is overrated. Specifically, those of us who place undue value on running around in the sunshine are fooling ourselves into thinking that there's some inherent virtue in it that can't be matched by simply sitting inside in front of a computer and playing Tribes 2 and chattering on ICQ.

See, I have the distinct impression that I was the person who set 2 off on this rant.

Maybe my memory is faulty, or I might be creating a fictional past to fit my discomfort, but I seem to recall that I had been e-mailing with him about the general state of things, and I happened to mention that I wished more people in our social circle (a very indoorsy kind of group, true) would get outside and "do something real". After that, the e-mails sort of petered out a little-- you know how that happens-- and then shortly afterwards, this rant appeared.

Well, I must say I don't find it necessary to apologize for enjoying skiing and hiking and traveling and... other pastimes that don't involve computers. In fact, I've gone to a fair amount of effort to gain the wherewithal to enjoy those things pretty much whenever I want to, and not to be tied down to the computer unless I choose to be. Especially because I really do enjoy being outside, and I don't care if there is skin cancer and gang violence and air pollution out here. I don't relish the idea of being a brain in a jar wired into a VR existence where my wildest fantasies can come true-- while outside it's the world that Morpheus showed Neo in The Matrix.

Indeed, I find it kinda hard to relish the idea of such a future at all, now that that movie has entered our collective consciousness. Not that I could before.

Look, I don't consider myself a technophobe or a Luddite. Heaven forfend I should ever reach that point. I know I spent my childhood playing NES games and actively thinking, "I sure hope I never get to be so grown-up that I lose track of the new technology that kids understand but that seem to bewilder all the adults I know". And I don't plan to. Hey, my life revolves around technology and geek toys to a pretty significant extent. True, I despise cell phones, and I find PDAs to be largely a useless form of conspicuous consumption that solves a problem nobody really had, poorly. But that doesn't mean I don't understand them, or think they're inherently evil or a plague on society.

My vision of a beautiful future has to do with a guy standing on a grassy hilltop, surrounded by trees and rocks, looking out over a wide, expansive, urban valley with clear air and a dusting of snow on the distant peaks where the observatories are. He's got one, maybe two devices hooked to his belt, and a head-mounted, inconspicuous communications and computing device attached like a pair of glasses. He uses all of these things for everyday purposes, but he doesn't use any of them when he doesn't have to-- and while he's looking out over the city, he's using both his organic eyes the way he normally does: without any communications connectivity or messaging options or anything digital floating in his field of view. It's an actual, real-live view, not Channel Zero. And he actively chooses to see it that way-- and not because his implants are broken.

Is it too much to imagine that technology will eventually become passé-- not so much that we don't want it, but enough that we use it exactly as much as we need it, like a car? Is it too much to imagine that technology will exist in order to enable us to enjoy the outdoors and real social interaction and a game of pick-up softball, rather than being the entirety of our virtually-realized lives?

21:41 - Yaaargh...

How, I ask with great humility and supplication, can I get people to understand that their e-mail addresses do not begin with www. ?

"Ooh, my address is www.bruce1235 aol@ . @ com!"

This, which has been bugging me for about six years now, combined with the apparent fact that AOL does not had a "quote" function in its e-mail program (after what, nine years of being in existence) fills me with dread-- well, not dread, because it's just going to be more of the same as the future goes on. It's just going to keep pounding away on our heads, like a very small guy with a very small hammer banging away right at the point at the top of the skull where the button on top of your baseball cap is and where it digs into your scalp if you press your head against a flat surface so it presses the nerve that crosses right there and your eyes roll back in your head and you black out.

Oh yeah, and exactly how does someone on AOL get their mail into that state where anyone who tries to send mail to him gets a bounce message back saying "whoever@aol.com IS NOT ACCEPTING MAIL FROM THIS SENDER"? Is it because AOL provides some nice tempting checkbox that says "Don't accept mail from The Internet"-- you know, that evil place where nobody with any honorable intentions is, because anybody worth talking to is obviously on AOL?

Glaah. If you've ever received a letter from someone that you had to reply to, but it didn't have a return address on it-- that's what it's like, multiple times a day. Bluh.

19:55 - Boy, a man on a Squishy bender can sure do some crazy things...

While I was driving down 101 on the way back from FC today, NPR had a show on high-school and college kids and their relationships with the military, especially post-9/11. A lot of good angles, but the last one on the show was especially interesting. A 21-year-old from Indiana by the name of Kinsey said that he had called up his local army recruiter at noon on September 11th and enlisted. But about two weeks later-- which is evidently how long it takes for inflated provoked patriotism to be flushed out of one's bloodstream-- he started having second thoughts, and backed out.

The recruiters kept after him. They tried everything in the book, including lying, in order to get him to change his mind. But, as he said, "I realized that there are better ways to serve my country." Serving in the army would mean coming back in four years at age 26 to the same pay-for-tuition job he had, the same college classes he was taking, and a drastically reduced potential for his future. "For me, the best way to serve my country is to go to college, get a job, and support the economy-- make sure the terrorists don't change my life, and by that to make sure the terrorists don't change the country."

Sure, it's easy to look at the guy and shout "Wuss!" But hey, we'd better not do that from our nice secure pulpits in Blogland.

I don't consider myself a "warblogger"-- certainly not like all the guys listed over at InstaPundit, with their insightful commentary (ranging in tone from self-important to self-effacing) that puts Stratfor to shame. I don't pretend to have that kind of confidence in my facts and opinions. My world, while it's certainly a lot bigger than it otherwise could be, is mostly centered on movies and computer stuff and citric acid, and events beyond the borders of those interests don't tend to affect my life very directly. So I just flounder along as best I can.

But I don't for a moment regret choosing the path in life that I did rather than going into the military. I'd make a lousy soldier. But I do think I make a much less lousy... uh... whatever it is I'm doing now.

It's not life-threatening, though. Damn, I'm a wuss.
Saturday, January 26, 2002
03:34 - It's actually more poetic than sad...

Marjan, the lion at the Kabul zoo that everyone around the world has been sending their money to help save, has died. Old age. Very old age.

"So it was all in vain," some will say.


Marjan was ready.

He carried memories of an Afghanistan where life was primitive but good. He was once a cute and beautiful cub and all was right with the world.

He suffered poverty and maltreatment, and finally lost the sunlight and blue skies when a vengeful warrior stole his sight.

Through it all he clung to Omar, his elderly keeper, who also remembered the way things used to be. This giant was a kitten in Omar's arms, rubbing and nuzzling him with what was left of his once-beautiful face.

And Marjan kept waiting.

The Afghan war came and went, the Taliban were driven out, and visitors began to flock back to the zoo and the museum. Life returned to Kabul. Marjan's story circled the globe, and the peoples of the world started an outpouring of generosity to rebuild the shattered remnants of the Kabul Zoo.

Marjan was a king, and like a good king, he brought salvation in time of hardship, and prosperity in time of famine. Now Marjan was ready. For 25 years he waited till his work was done. And now that he had fulfilled his destiny, he laid down and slept.

Go into the light, Marjan. You opened our eyes, and now it is your turn to see.

-- John Burkitt

03:23 - Well, that was actually relaxing. Huh.

Just got back from spending most of the day at Further Confusion; most of the evening was spent at the VCL party where we batted each other with fun-noodles for several hours, but before that I sat at the back of Lance's "Writing for Comics" panel that he hosted with the author of Suburban Jungle.

The panel actually worked out very well, if you overlook the fact that the event was completely left out of all the scheduling lists for the day-- so David Brin, who had the panel room at 3:00, didn't realize that there was supposed to be another one taking his place at 4:00. Meanwhile, nobody realized that Lance's panel was supposed to take place, but somehow a whisper came down from the ventilation system that something was supposed to be happening, and David hustled himself out.

Let me tell you, it was pretty weird having to elbow aside David Brin in order to get a panel on comic-writing set up. (But he did semi-jokingly offer to be on the panel himself-- he does have a new graphic novel out, after all. But Lance wasn't about to try to share a panel with David Brin. That just wouldn't have been especially fun.)

Good con; high attendance, not a lot of money being spent, but hey-- it's hard economic times and all. Lance is going to voice auction tomorrow on a Kyoht piece; knowing what happened last year (the $3500 GoldenWolf piece he won in an intense bout of voice-auctioning, an event which has gone down in lore and legend), Kyoht must be just about ready to go into the coffee-nerves twitching state that often accompanies a four-figure sale. But hey, it's a good piece. Tomorrow will be interesting; I may go back and see how it all turns out.
Friday, January 25, 2002
21:36 - Finally We Join the Union...

California is the last state in the country that hasn't adopted the convention of numbered freeway exits. And, "thankfully" (according to a guy on NPR who talked about it), that's about to change.

Some states number their exits sequentially from a convenient border, which gets very messy when new exits are added ("Take Exit 43. No, not the one for Saunders Street, the Exit 43 down by the park. Yeah, 43b. Or is that 43c?") But states with more of an evident brain number exits based on mileage. It's possible by that scheme to get the same kind of problem if you have exits really close together, but it's a whole lot more sensible. That's how California's going to do it.

It seems cool that this is going to happen-- it'll certainly reduce a fair amount of navigational confusion. But I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks this, but I think there's a certain amount of geographical romanticism in not numbering exits. "Between Lawrence Expressway and Wolfe Road" sounds so much better on traffic reports than "Between exits 14 and 16". It's also got something to do with a certain amount of pride in names like "Bayshore Freeway" and "Montague Expressway" rather than austere numbers.

Ah well-- I guess I'll get used to being like the rest of the country Sigh. Oh, but we do have one consolation: the exits on Interstate 5, which start at the Mexican border and continue for 809 miles to the Oregon border, will boast the highest-numbered mileage-based exit in the country: 796, at the far-northern town of Hilt.

19:15 - Look-- I'm No Gun Fancier, But...

Here's a column that needs to be read.

Another school shooting occurred last week and the headlines were everywhere the same, from Australia to Nigeria. This time the shooting occurred at a university, the Appalachian Law School. As usual, there were calls for more gun control.

Yet in this age of "gun-free school zones," one fact was missing from virtually all the news coverage: The attack was stopped by two students who had guns in their cars.

The fast responses of two male students, Mikael Gross, 34, and Tracy Bridges, 25, undoubtedly saved multiple lives.

Mikael was outside the law school and just returning from lunch when Peter Odighizuwa started his attack. Tracy was in a classroom waiting for class to start.

When the shots rang out, utter chaos erupted. Mikael said, "People were running everywhere. They were jumping behind cars, running out in front of traffic, trying to get away."

Mikael and Tracy did something quite different: Both immediately ran to their cars and got their guns. Mikael had to run about 100 yards to get to his car. Along with Ted Besen (who was unarmed), they approached Peter from different sides.

As Tracy explained it, "I aimed my gun at him, and Peter tossed his gun down. Ted approached Peter, and Peter hit Ted in the jaw. Ted pushed him back and we all jumped on."

What is so remarkable is that out of 280 separate news stories (from a computerized Nexis-Lexis search) in the week after the event, just four stories mentioned that the students who stopped the attack had guns.

Only two local newspapers (the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Charlotte Observer) mentioned that the students actually pointed their guns at the attacker.

Much more typical was the scenario described by the Washington Post, where the heroes had simply "helped subdue" the killer. The New York Times noted only that the attacker was "tackled by fellow students."

Most in the media who discussed how the attack was stopped said: "students overpowered a gunman," "students ended the rampage by tackling him," "the gunman was tackled by four male students before being arrested," or "Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon."

In all, 72 stories described how the attacker was stopped without mentioning that the student heroes had guns.

I will type the following words very slowly in order to be sure everyone understands. In fact I'll press the keys really hard, which means they'll show up in bold:

If gun control laws had been stricter, Mikael and Tracy would not have had their guns available. But Peter would still have had his.

Look, I'm no big fan of guns myself. I don't like 'em. I find it distasteful to shoot them or to have them in my house. But dammit, people-- let's apply just a little more of our vaunted human brain-power to this problem than it takes to say "Yea, Hallelujah! Tighten up them gun control laws!"

At least now we know what the brainless liberal editorial media has been spending its time reporting when there isn't a war on to preach doom-and-gloom about.

15:52 - Rise Up, Colombia

I can't find any more information on the web than what I heard on KCBS this morning, but apparently a woman is running for president of Colombia on the following platform:

She hands out doses of Viagra to startled motorists at intersections, along with a flyer saying something to the effect of "I will lift and firm up the resolve of the Colombian people, so that we can stand up to corruption and swell into a great and proud nation."

Hey, she's got my vote.

15:37 - Corporate Innovation, Reagan's Memoirs, and Other Oxymorons

On the way to lunch today, Kris and I heard Dean "Segway" Kamen on NPR talking about how not only do large corporations tend not to innovate, they're actively hostile to innovation. The reason they're big, after all, is that what they're doing works. So why change?

Microsoft can crow all they like about "Freedom to Innovate", but the fact is that like any huge corporation, they have to build a business case around doing one thing that sells well for a long period of time. Innovation threatens the ability to do that. The only reason Microsoft would change their software is if they're threatened with being tarred as "behind the times" by a competitor who does innovate. Hence their long history of following in Apple's footsteps.

"But Microsoft does innovate," some will cry. They'll point at the optical mouse, TrueType fonts, "Smart Tags", .NET... yeah, okay, you know what? I have this to say to you: http://www.vcnet.com/bms/departments/innovation.shtml.

Just about the only thing they can be shown to have come up with on their own is "Microsoft Bob". Yeah, we'll give 'em that. Oh, and "Clippy" too. Congratulations. You must be so proud.

Another worthy link: Microsoft "Innovation" by Harvard's Tom Fine.

13:59 - It's Time for Your Windows Moment of Zen...


Look carefully at the selection box, and look at the files that are selected. It's Windows Voodoo! WwwoooOOOooooOOooOOooOooo!

Note that this is under NT4; but investigation has shown that XP behaves the same way (and even provides new views, for instance Thumbnail View, in which selection doesn't work the way you'd expect).

Needless to say, selection of icons on the Mac occurs as soon as the selection box touches any part of the icon or its label, and nothing that does not intersect with the selection box is selected. Like you'd expect.
Thursday, January 24, 2002
01:39 - Well, there's good news and there's bad news...

Three or four years ago, I was convinced that the most hideous form of evil on TV was long-distance phone ads. Quite apart from AT&T's telemarketers calling up and reading me a spiel to try to convince me to switch from MCI or whatever (which nobody ever did), just the TV ads drove me absolutely bonkers. "Just 20 cents a minute for the first fifteen minutes during nights and weekends, and just 35 cents afterwards or after 9AM or on holidays!" some scantily-clad buxom model or matriarchal former leading lady or freaky alternative comic would say. You know how much time I spend making long-distance phone calls? Approximately five minutes per year. These divas in their diaphanous gowns standing under oak trees with rosebushes and antebellum porch swings stand to drum up a cool ten bucks a year for their employers if they can convince me to do whatever the hell it is one has to do to change phone companies.

(Yes, I know. I'm not the target demographic. Which brings up a question: What if every ad I saw was specifically targeted towards me-- was something I would be interested in seeing? Isn't that the impossible dream for both the advertisers and the consumers? Or do consumers depend for the sake of their sanity on the fact that most advertising is not aimed at them?)

Er, ahem. Back to the original point: While long-distance phone company ads are still obnoxious, they don't seem to be as prevalent anymore. In their place, though, are ads for debt consolidation agencies. Debt consolidation agencies. Modern-day loan sharks who will get your creditors off your back and make things niiice and easy for you-- for a nominal fee, a mere pittance. A credit agency who will give you a buffer so you can make progress on the credit agencies whose buffer enables you to pay off the buffer you filled up on all your credit cards and loans.

That's right: our society has reached a second and third level of indirection when it comes to our money. It's been so long since we considered using cash and our real buying power at any given moment to buy anything bigger than a cheeseburger that this makes sense to us.

And the debt consolidation agencies realize that this market is a huge one. A gold mine. A giant untapped well of willing profit. So much more lucrative than persuading people to make more phone calls through a different service from the one they're currently using.

The next step: TV ads saying "INCREASE YOUR WINDOWS RELIABILITY!" and "HOT TEEN XXX SLUTS!!!" and "MAKE $$$ FAST!"

23:42 - More Pseudo-Apocryphal Giggles

The thing about the Qantas pilots' squawks reminded me of a set of somewhat similar gems that Travis Williams, a Blacker House-mate, once regaled us with over dinner. These are reports from Boy Scouts first-aid logs, which were later submitted as part of the corresponding insurance reports:

Incident description: Kid fell on rock and cracked his coconut.
Cause: Roughhousing
Injuries that resulted: Cracked coconut
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Had a talk with the lad, moved rock

Incident description: Scout jumped off bridge
Cause: Jumping off
Injuries that resulted: Broken legs
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Told scouts not to jump off bridge in the future

Incident description: Camp truck ran off road
Cause: Truck was stuck in gear
Injuries that resulted: none
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Welded steel re-bar to transmission to replace stick.

Incident description: Camper fell on stairs
Cause: Stairs were muddy, running
Injuries that resulted: hit his noggin
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Kicked him out of swim area.

Incident description: Staff member bitten by snake
Cause: snake
Injuries that resulted: snake bite
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: killed the snake

Incident description: Kid hit in the head by a rock
Cause: flying rock
Injuries that resulted: head injury
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Asked scouts not to throw rocks

The best part is, I'm assured that these are not apocryphal. Why do I believe this? Because there were more that he couldn't remember off the top of his head. And other named "incidents"-- for instance, the "chainsaw/dumpster incident"...

23:17 - Oh yeah-- I couldn't just let this slip by...


So Johnny the Disaffected Gen-Y MTV-Generation Rebel Youth has appeared in court and given us the first couple of pictures of him that weren't taken back in November when he had a big Manson beard and stared at the ceiling in that one photo that has been used over and over as the illustration above his name for the past two months.

I don't have much by way of opinion to offer about the guy today. He's making it hard for anyone to have an opinion about him. "Yes, I understand the charges against me," he says. "Yes, I love the US." "Yes, I feel that jihad is absolutely the righteous fight." "Yes, I understand I have committed treason." "Yes, I supported the September 11 attacks." "Yes, I am a proud American."

Is this what happens when you spend two years eating (with apologies to Spalding Grey) bark, bugs, lizards and leaves, running around in the bare rocky hills with a bunch of bearded, wild-eyed, gaunt people who carry Kalashnikovs the way Japanese tourists carry cameras? It makes you incapable of saying anything incriminating or even interesting, even before you get a lawyer to tell you not to? It makes a viewer stare impassively at your courtroom sketch and glumly think, "Okay, what else is on?"

Here, I'll give it a shot:

After leaving the courthouse his father, Frank Lindh, told reporters, "John loves America. We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges."

"John loves America," eh? What, with favah beans and a nice Chianti? Did he have American flags and Raiders logos on the bumper of his Toyota in Mazar-e-Sharif? Let me guess, he stands up in his prison cell every morning and recites the Pledge of Allegiance before kneeling on a knit American-flag rug to pray toward Mecca?

...Hmm, okay. See, that didn't work. I just can't drum up any sentiment about this guy. He's being deliberately bland, like light bends around him. (Maybe that's why there are so few pictures of him.) I know his lawyer is probably instructing him to be as uncommunicative and cooperative as possible, but... man. It just seems like there should be more there there in a guy who decided Islam was so important that he would travel to Yemen to study it at an age where most kids are primarily worried about which Playstation games to buy.

I guess the lesson I will take from this, if there is any to take, is that if Southern Comfort Lindh is any indication, the atmosphere in the al Qaeda camps were-- and are-- of an eerie resigned fatalism, a live-for-the-moment existence where all that matters is improving your marksmanship a little more, getting over the next ridge, making it to the camp by nightfall, making it to the next muezzin's call. When you don't get much food or sleep, life gets like that.

Small wonder these guys think nothing of suicide missions. Just another thing to do in the day. Shower, brush teeth, pray, catch taxi to airport, get on plane, pray, hijack plane and fly into building, check in at front gates of Paradise, pray, get something to eat...

21:56 - Egad...

Okay. Just... look at this.

This definitely says something deep and meaningful about ... oh, hell, I don't know what. Technology and the loss of humanity and the irony of simulation and all that rot. Or else it's just pretty bloody cool. Probably both, actually.

17:33 - Flight Simulators Will Never Become This Much Fun

It could all be apocryphal-- who knows. That's the way of things in Internet Land. But as I've mentioned recently, it's so much more fun to be able to believe it's all true...

Here are some actual logged maintenance complaints and problems, known as
"squawks," submitted by QUANTAS pilots and the solution recorded by
maintenance engineers. By the way Quantas is the only major airline that has
never had an accident.

P = The problem logged by the pilot.
S = The solution and action taken by the engineers.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.
S: Autoland not installed on this aircraft.

P: No. 2 propeller seeping prop fluid.
S: No. 2 propeller seepage normal. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 propellers lack normal

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on backorder.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200-fpm descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're there for!

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windscreen.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with words.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

11:22 - Why Microsoft's .NET Is .Not For Me

An editorial-style article outlining exactly what is wrong with .NET (which they aren't calling "Hailstorm" anymore, apparently-- Microsoft just can't seem to come up with non-threatening code names any more than the FBI can: Carnivore?).

Microsoft is an illegal monopoly and I don't trust them with my data.

Yeah. Too bad we won't have a choice about it if nobody stands up and yells.

So come on, everybody. Stand up and yell.

04:16 - Just Hoarding Another Lileks Bauble...

From today's Bleat on tax laws:

He believed the family making 100K a year had a moral obligation to give the money to those who did not, and wanted to use the power of the state to enforce his morals. (Or, as the parlance has it, “shove them down our throats,” although you never hear that phrase used when the shover robot belongs to the Right-Thinking Side.)

Ahh, the Shover Robot. Do You Have Stairs in Your House?

I know it's sort of anti-bloggish and probably a bit rude to read through the entirety of a well-crafted-as-ever Lileks column, ignore its deep and meaningful insights, and comment only on a little obscure net-culture gem that he tosses in to hold our interest. But somehow I don't feel bad about it; I don't have much to add about Minnesota tax law, but when the transient gleam of a reference like this catches my eye, I just have to stoop and pick it up. It's like how several weeks ago he noted that Star Trek: The Motion Picture really "bit the wax tadpole". You know-- stuff like that deserves commemoration somewhere, like in a virtual butterfly-collection box or something.

Hah! I just came up with a name for this blog: The Killjar.

(Nah, just kidding.)
Wednesday, January 23, 2002
01:28 - I Can Ponder Perpetual Motion...

Hey, look. Another inventor claims to have a working refutation of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

In a demonstration for Reuters, a prototype -- roughly the size of a dishwasher -- was run for around 10 minutes using four 12-volt car batteries as an initial power source.

Emitting a steady motorized hum, the machine powered three 100-watt light bulbs for the duration.

A multimeter reading of the batteries' voltage before the device started up showed a total of 48.9 volts. When it was switched off, a second reading showed 51.2 volts, indicating that, somehow, they had been reimbursed.

The machine went on to run for around two hours while photographs were taken, with no diminution in the brightness of the light bulbs, which remained lit during a short power cut.

"The draw on the batteries was estimated at more than 4.5 kilowatts. With any existing technology the batteries would have been drained flat in one and a half minutes," the inventor said.

Evidently some scientists, though as unwilling to give their names as this Irish inventor is to give his, are willing to at least take this case seriously enough to investigate it a bit. Hey, there have to be major breakthroughs still left to make, right? Things that are within our reach?

I remember it always annoyed me, growing up in the 80s, that there weren't any huge mythical superstars in baseball who had the stature that Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio had while they were playing-- even during their careers it was clear that they would become legends. But these days it's all so much smaller-scale and pettier. Players get lots more money but fade from sight much more quickly.

And that's sort of how I feel about scientific advancement. Galileo and Einstein and Edison came up with discoveries that changed people's lives almost right away; there were immediate returns. Today, Stephen Hawking is certainly in the same ballpark, as was Richard Feynman-- but their discoveries aren't giving us the same returns, so I doubt their names will enter our lexicon as colloquialisms in thirty or fifty years.

So that's where my skepticism of the perpetual-motion dishwasher comes from. Not because I doubt that it's fundamentally possible that the First Law of Thermodynamics can be disproved... but because I can't help but feel that this is somehow the wrong age for it. You know, I just can't believe that something like that will happen in my lifetime, just like that. The Internet is big, yes, but it took thirty years to become big. Free power would change things much faster than that.

Of course, knocking down the World Trade Center sure changed things in a hurry. But then again, here we are four months later, and (aside from in Lower Manhattan) things are pretty much back to normal.

22:40 - Olympic Rings Constructed from Living Nerve Cells


I can't word my reaction any better than Marcus Aanerud's:

And in other medical news, there's still no cure for Cancer or HIV.

19:50 - Followup on College Urban Legends

In discussion with Hiker, it came up that another reason why the college urban legends in the movie Slackers (see the link) irks people like me is that now that they've become common memes, people will already know them. They'll think the movie was where they originated. You can tell people "No, these stories date back to 1970-whatever", but they won't be interested in hearing that. These are supposed to be funny stories, after all. People don't want to be corrected when they're trying to laugh about something silly.

But even more of a worry to us is the fact that when urban legends like these move into the mainstream consciousness, they cease to be "folklore"-- and believe me, there is precious little "folklore" in the world anymore. Before the Internet, seniors could tell these stories to freshmen, and the freshmen would believe that the stories are based on events that occurred at their school-- right there at home. That's how the stories would be told. Whether there's any truth to them or not, the whole point is believing that it could happen here because it did happen here. I know for sure that a lot of the legendary doings of Caltech students burrowed their way deep into me during my frosh year and instilled in me a pride in my school that surprised the hell out of me-- maybe I was so desperate to love the school after working so hard to get in that I would latch onto anything; I don't know. But if I hadn't been told those stories and felt myself become part of the legends and the history through the act of listening, I would have enjoyed my time there a whole lot less.

The Internet's benefits are myriad; we all know that. But one thing that really sucks about it is that it removes the uncertainty and the mysticism from campfire stories. In 1990, if someone had told you the "Do you have any idea who I am?" story, you would take it on faith that that was how it happened, that it happened at your school, and that the version you heard was the canonical one-- and therefore anybody else's variants were derivatives that you could feel smugly superior about. But today, all you have to do is type that phrase into Google, and up pops an authoritative archive of college urban legends, complete with bibliographies, annotations, histories of revisions, and definitive origins. And that's anticlimactic as hell.

See, this is what it must have been like to be the Pope listening to Galileo speak. Yeah, the bastard's right, he probably thought. But, dammit... now the world's so much less fun.

Not to blast a tangent out the side of this post, but that's what religion fears most about science, I suspect: the prospect that we might know how everything works. "He knows everything." "Oh, I wouldn't like that; it'd take all the mystery out of life." So we'd all become logical, scientific thinkers with no imagination; we'd know how to reach the stars but we'd have no desire to do so.

Yeah, that's it. The Internet will turn us all into Vulcans.

15:47 - Guantanamo Politics and the New Divide

It's really weird how since 9/11, op-ed columnists and the various warbloggers (and myself) have been pointing out the philosophical differences between America and Europe-- and how the world since the attacks seems to be sifting out into an "America+Israel vs. Europe+the Arab Nations" landscape. Sure, ostensibly the Europeans and everybody else condemns the attacks... but there's been an extraordinary amount of grousing from across the Atlantic since then about how the US has gone about kicking ass in Afghanistan.

Now the latest refrain is about how we're torturing and humiliating the al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Despite all kinds of assurances and proof that we're not, including willingly inviting in the International Red Cross to inspect Camp X-Box, Europeans still seem to be under the impression that the US has gone completely off the deep end-- that we should be treating the prisoners as captured soldiers, giving them preferential treatment that would please Amnesty International-- or better yet, turning them over to the Karzai government so they can be dealt with in the Afghan legal system. (Uh huh.)

But it's good to see that we do have some good non-American minds on our side. This interview with Torontonian professor of Political Science Clifford Orwin pretty much amounts to the love-thy-neighbor interviewer handed his ass on a plate covered with a thick layer of rich sarcasm sauce.

Meanwhile, The Mirror of London ran this editorial full of screeching demands that Tony Blair withdraw all support for the bloodthirsty Americans and their brutal, Nazi-like, death-camp treatment of the poor innocent prisoners. It's pretty damn funny to read in and of itself, but what's even funnier is that the editorial was followed up by a reader poll asking British readers whether they condemned the Americans' treatment of the prisoners, as the article urged.

The results? 91% said NO.

So I guess the moral of the story here is that the liberal media everywhere is the biggest enemy of the expedient elimination of the terrorist threat, and common people everywhere are fed up with hearing how our biggest concern should be that the prisoners get culturally-appropriate meals and a banner on a watchtower showing the direction of Mecca.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
03:14 - Hey, people pay good money to see this stuff...

Isn't it time for someone to decide Mike Tyson needs to be put in a very small box with a strong and secure lock for the rest of his natural life?

"Today's events are but one of the very many instances that have recently taken place that degrade boxing," Sulaiman said. "It would be discriminatory to single out Mike Tyson because many other boxers have behaved similarly at other press conferences."

After things quieted down, Tyson walked to the front of the stage, and thrust his arms in the air in triumph, then grabbed his crotch.

Later, Tyson punched a cameraman in the throat, and then raped two women near the entrance to the building. Afterwards, he came back inside to sign autographs.

Honestly-- how much more of this do we need to see?

Answer: As much as it takes until Tyson spectacles cease to be profitable. Meaning, an infinite amount.

02:42 - Robotic Microcosms

Lance is building a BattleBot.

He was telling me about it in the hot tub tonight-- it's a project that will take eight months once he and David embark upon it, and he's really getting into it. He's been watching the show on Comedy Central and getting more and more enthralled by the idea of putting his mechanical ingenuity and metal bloodlust to good use. Listening to him talk about pillow blocks and tungsten-carbide teeth on 20-pound milling wheels is like listening to Steve Jobs wax lyrical about LCD screens.

But there's something Lance mentioned, sort of offhand, that made me start to pay attention and absorb as much as possible, especially in light of the recent posts about the US vs. European philosophies. It's international politics as expressed in terms of these shows.

See, there are two shows right now of more or less equivalent content: Robot Wars, which is the British show, is on TNN and is hosted by the guy who played Lister on Red Dwarf. Battlebots, however, is a thoroughly American show, and lives on Comedy Central. Robot Wars has the better announcers and tournament structure, but... well, there's something very British about it.

Battlebots, the American show, is strictly a player-vs-player sort of proposition. Teams build robots to compete directly head-to-head in a hazard-filled arena; there are things like buzzsaws that come out of the floor and hammers that swing from the walls, but they're just hazards.

But Robot Wars has house robots. These are huge, $40,000 machines with specializations and personalities and pseudo-histories, and it's their job to lurk in corners and jump out to attack and disembowel robots that become incapacitated. And the contestants, who have their hands full battling each other, are not allowed to attack the house robots directly.

To put it another way, the arbitrarily assigned authority figures are unassailable. The peasants can fight each other in the cock-fighting pit, and the authority figures can step in to stomp all over them, but they must not be attacked. No commoner must raise his hands against a noble.

Well, said Lance, we didn't line up for the Redcoats either.

So whenever they have Yanks on Robot Wars, they take it upon themselves to toss aside the rules and seize whatever opportunity they can to beat the crap out of the house robots. If they come out of their corners when they're not supposed to, the contestants are within their rights to defend themselves with whatever force they deem necessary-- and they do.

One American team was fighting in the Robot Wars arena; the house robot "Matilda" came out of her corner. She has hydraulic lifting arms which can throw a Chevy small-block halfway down the arena, and a high-capacity gasoline engine for propulsion. The flinging arms are controlled by a triggering mechanism that gets tripped by contact. Knowing this, the Americans turned their full attention upon Matilda and rammed her again and again, until they tripped the mechanism, Matilda's arms shot out, and she flipped over. Because she had never been inverted before, and had not been designed to handle such an incident, her fuel ignited. The house robot was engulfed in flames, doing some $10,000 worth of damage.

But we can't have common militia shooting officers, what? Surely!

Interviewed after the fight, the Americans in charge of the incident told Lister, "Anything in that arena is a target. I don't care if it's a house robot," The host looked shocked and backed away from the cameras. "I'm on this show to fight. I'm here for me and my team, not for the show." The implication being that arbitrarily imposed rules that elevate a certain class of participants over the rest, and give that class license to do gratuitous damage when their victims are helpless, just so the contestants are forced to spend more money on a new robot-- just out of spite, are not something that Americans think very highly of. When we do a show like this, we make it so the contestants are on equal footing, with the only external hazards being forces of nature. Anointed enforcers who must not be assailed don't sit well with our psyche. And we're not shy about saying as much.

"So Battlebots is the one," said Lance. Yeah, I can see how he would come to that conclusion.

23:12 - Oh yeah...

On our way to lunch, Kris and David and I were talking and chattering and laughing; and on the radio, in the background, was The Doors singing "Love Her Madly".

When the song got to the line "Tell me what you say", the three of us interrupted our loud conversation to shout "WHAT YOU SAY!" in unison, completely spontaneously.

... Okay, maybe you had to have been there.

23:06 - Silicon Valley Turns Into A Regular Place

At lunch today we were discussing the fortunes of friends who had been hopping from job to job over the past several years, putting up with really terrible employment conditions (wearing pagers and being on duty 24/7, being flown all over the country without regard to prior plans, losing perks and privileges right and left) purely because of the elusive phantom of Getting Rich. You know-- the idea that if you just put up with enough years of hell, it would all pay off in the end.

I had a mental flash of exactly what that implied: namely, that you'd be sitting there, putting up with your irksome, often miserable job, and one day someone in a suit and with his tie unkempt would come running breathlessly through your department: "Hey! Everybody! Guess what... we just announced breakout profits! We're suddenly an unbelievable success! Everybody's stock options are now worth hundreds of dollars each! We're all millionaires!" And he would trip and fall, roll over giggling, pick himself up, and zoom off to another department to pop champagne corks and shriek in hysterical glee.

....No. Not gonna happen.

No company becomes an overnight success, especially companies that have been in years-long slumps, or that lost all their value in the dot-bomb crash. Employees who are doggedly hanging on to such jobs because they're being promised huge rewards if they just put up with it long enough... well, they're just signing up for the sacrifice of more years of their mid-20s onto the bonfire of workaday drudgery. The most likely outcome, just like in Office Space, is that they will end up laid-off in thanks for all their trouble and faith and misery.

It's trite to say this, I know-- but it really needs to be said: You have to find a job that you can enjoy. Never endure a job that makes you miserable, if you have any choice whatsoever in the matter. No monetary reward when you're 30 is worth spending your 20s in pain. Instead, if you enjoy working, no matter what it is you do, you will be happy over an extended period of time, and you'll be able to look back at a time of your life that you truly were glad to have lived. And then, if you end up getting rich-- hey, it's a bonus!

I know it's easy for me to say this because I enjoy my job. Well, yes... but look at it this way. I would have even less credibility if I had gotten rich in the dot-com boom, right? I am an example of a person who was well on his way to reaping the rewards of the Internet Gold Rush, but had it deflate... but as luck would have it, I backed a good horse: I enjoy my job anyway.

And I can say with certainty that it is entirely possible, no matter what the economic conditions, to find a job that you can enjoy. If you do, by God, take it. Don't cheat yourself, don't fool yourself... give yourself a gift. Allow yourself to enjoy life. Because that's what this time of life is for.

22:48 - Whew... At Long Last

So finally, after many months of coding, the new PacketTrack system at work has gone live for everyone to use. On Thursday, at the all-hands meeting, we told everybody of its existence and gave a short visual demo, followed by a company-wide e-mail explaining what the various components were for; finally, yesterday, Kris put the final piece in place: Bugsy, the bug database.

Bugsy is the only component (out of seven) that I didn't write, and so Kris used a lot of my code in order to centralize functionality like the user authentication, role enforcement, and cookie handling. As such, he was treading on ground that I knew really well, but that he was new to-- and that was a bit of a reversal from the usual state of things.

Usually, he's the one to explain to me various user-interface principles that are often ignored by the novice tool-builder, namely (for instance) that the UI has to follow the user's expected workflow-- not whatever functionality path is most convenient to code. It's almost an axiom that the simplest, most elegant code in the back-end translates to a high learning curve and non-intuitive UI elements in the front-end. So while it's tempting from a coding standpoint to have a list of "Actions" that contain items like "Modify Owner, Resolution, and State", it's completely meaningless to the user. The user wants buttons that say things like "Close Bug", even though such a function-- implemented individually-- makes for inefficient back-end code. But hey, that's the way these things go.

So while all this time I've been the one trying to learn and absorb and demonstrate understanding of these principles in my code, I now have the interesting experience of seeing the person I've been learning from falling prey to many of the same pitfalls that I've been trying so hard to avoid. All of a sudden I'm the one with the experience, and I'm the Code Nazi. Ha haah! It's a reversal of fortune!

Nah, don't get me wrong. It's not like this is a rivalry or anything. I'm just really enjoying being done with my part of it. :) And if that means I get to dispense some of the wisdom I've accumulated through months of trial and error and failure and experience... hey, bonus!
Monday, January 21, 2002
02:33 - College Urban Legends Make for Good Movie Scripts

An old chestnut of a college urban legend, or at least the variant told at the site linked above (under the title "Flunk Me if You Can"):

A student is having a very hard time writing a final exam. So hard, in fact, that he continues to write a full five minutes after the professor has called "Pencils down." The professor, tired of waiting, picks up the pile of exams and begins to walk out of the room. Seeing this, the student finishes up and rushes, paper in hand, to the professor, only to find that his exam will not be accepted.

After the professor explains to the distraught student that he has violated academic code by writing past the finishing time, the student asks him: "Do you have any idea who I am?"

The professor answers, "No. But I'll have a pretty good idea what your name is when I record your failing grade."

With that, the student knocks the finished exams out of the professors hands, mixes his in with the pile, and runs out of the room.

Rumour has it, he got a B+.

Okay, all well and good. Funny, though it's thoroughly made the rounds by now, and in a variety of different forms (in the version I heard at first, the student simply lifted up half the pile of exams and slipped his into the middle, staring with a smug smirk at the dumbfounded professor's face).

But there's a new movie coming out called Slackers, which appears to consist mostly of college urban legends like this one. I'm pretty sure I also see "The Flat Tire" in amongst the clips in the trailer, and I have no doubt that a good many more will be in evidence.

This bugs me. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's that from now on, people won't be able to tell these stories anymore without the hearer thinking that they originated with the movie's screenwriters. Maybe it's that I'm irked by the idea of a movie being "written" as a loose compilation of pre-existing reference material, only requiring someone with the couple of evenings necessary to stitch them together into a script coherent enough to sell. Either way, it feels like someone is getting cheated, but I can't figure out who.

I think it's probably that I still think of myself as a college guy. This is my world they're capitalizing on... and besides, they're stories that made sense in the 1990s, not the 2000s where Slackers is being set. Well... actually, no-- the stories make the most sense if set in the 60s, or maybe the 20s... okay, well, they don't really ring plausible at all. But still.

It's one thing to have the feel of Caltech captured and lampooned in Real Genius. That's something I treasure. But these stupid little stories, the urban legends... like the movie of that very title from several years ago, this just feels like the very worst of the functionality of the Hollywood Machine.

Dang it, isn't Real Genius out on DVD yet?

01:58 - Well, so much for HP and IBM being "good guys"...

Hewlett-Packard and IBM have recently decided, in their infinite wisdom, not to include Windows XP recovery CDs with their newly-shipped home PCs. To save on the extravagant cost of a CD, they've elected instead to load the contents of the CD onto a hidden partition on the machine's hard drive.

You know, for easy access when the user needs it, like after the hard drive crashes and its contents get wiped.

Whose brainstorm was this, I'd like to know? PC customers are already up in arms, and the set of silicon.com articles that the above link goes to chronicle their patient and largely futile efforts to explain to HP and IBM the concept of why you ship recovery data on CDs-- namely, that it allows you to reinstall the operating system that you already paid for from a piece of incorruptible, archival media. You don't store the archival information on the media that the original is on, you complete mindless idiots! Who runs your IT departments? How do you back up your corporate files-- by copying them to another folder on the same disk? Good God.

"I bought HP because they stood for quality and getting a good piece of equipment for the value," one Pavilion user wrote on HP's message board. "When cutting corners like this starts affecting the morale and attitude of customers, then nobody wins."

Indeed. Except maybe Dell and Compaq, and of course Microsoft (who gets to sell you a new $199 copy of Windows so you can recover from a hardware crash).

Guess those price wars are really taking their toll, eh? Hope everyone's enjoying their $499 computers.

20:36 - Steven den Beste: Undiplomatic Diplomat

The author of USS Clueless has been taking a bit of flak from his in-defense-of-America-against-Europe post from a couple of days ago. A Finnish emailer has taken him to task, rebuking him and the US in general for holding the Constitution in such high regard that we will place it above foreign nations' requests and demands that we change to suit their whims.

"Then it's time to change. The Constitution can't be holy, can it?" says the Finn.

Well, yes, dumbass. That's what it's there for.

Read den Beste's post. Also note the updates at the end-- other bloggers who have done what I'm doing now, which is to libate it with the anointment of the modern Internet: the Blog Link, the vindication of a really well-written post, the consensus that spreads via this mechanism throughout the blog world that someone has added a thought to the Internet's stream of consciousness which deserves to have more eyes stuck to it than the average snippet of textual trivia.

In his earlier post, den Beste brought up the notion that Europeans, while most modern nations have come more and more to look alike on the surface, really don't understand what it is about America that makes us different as a nation. And the current post amplifies it for the benefit of people who didn't get it the first time around.

Lots of people in the world seem to think that America is just another clone of France or England, except one that doesn't know how to behave itself and refuses to play by the rules of the world at large. Well, guess what: the whole point of the Revolution in 1776 was so that we wouldn't have to play by the rules of Europe. One gets the impression that Europe and America have grown similar in recent years, but then we scratch the surface a little bit and find out that while European countries have prime ministers now instead of kings, and McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks sitting smugly on their urban streetcorners, they still think the same way they always have-- and we still want nothing to do with that style of thought.

We've proved our worthiness as an independent country many, many times, and still we're being expected to fall into line and behave like a good upstanding "citizen of the world" (as den Beste puts it, code for the US to cease attempting to advance its own interests). Look-- we've done that. We've done it pretty damn well, as a matter of fact. And yet somehow we've avoided becoming another France or Germany or Finland, a feat for which we don't feel much like apologizing. If that antagonizes Europe, fine-- we're sorry you don't like it, but we're not going to change to avoid offending you. We haven't done so in the past 200 years, and we're not about to start now.

It isn't often that I feel that if Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were alive today, they would not be displeased with how we've held to our ideals. But I do today.
Sunday, January 20, 2002
20:09 - Hey, Robin Williams-- You Seen Robin Williams Lately?

I'm really wondering about Robin Williams lately. There's almost nothing left of the rampaging manic comic that we all loved so much throughout the 70s and 80s. The movie scenes where he would suddenly go off into one of his trademark ad-lib sessions, like the radio studio scene in Good Morning Vietnam, and the entirety of Aladdin... they're almost all gone now. And in their place is sentimental pap.

We should have seen the warning signs in Mrs. Doubtfire. Aside from the impressions scene toward the beginning where he uses up his ad-lib-scene card trying to impress a job counselor ("Nancy and I are still looking for the other half of my head"), and a later one where he impersonates the various freaky nannies over the phone, the humor only had the occasional foray into the old Williams style. We should have seen it coming...

Because the next thing that put Williams on the map was Patch Adams, a movie whose promotional poster was described by CNN's Paul Tatara as "like being punched in the gut with a fistful of dollars". Only the most occasional of Williams-brand stand-up scenes, and most of it was simply a movie that dared the audience not to like it. A movie about a kindly doctor who dispenses services for free to take care of sick children while wearing a red clown nose... it's like pressing the big "AAAWWWWW" button on the switchboard. Sentimental pap, like I said.

And it wasn't long after that that we got Bicentennial Man, with almost the same promotional poster, an even more humorless premise, and not even a hint of Williams throughout. Not the way we knew him, certainly. It's the puppy-dog-eyes Williams now, the play-it-safe Williams, the I-dare-you-to-pan-this-movie Williams. Sure, Bicentennial Man is pretty good, but it's so sickly-sweet and sentimental (in a way that A.I., of all things, was not) as to sap away any bite that the movie might have had. And the humor had no Williams in it. Just the occasional feeble one-liner surrounded by doe-eyed, staid confusion.

I guess everyone ends up getting typecast eventually. I just wish Williams had become typecast as an edgy comedian, rather than as a sugar-coated placebo of an actor.

17:18 - New Nasal-Spray Aphrodisiac

Okay, read this article. So much for Viagra, eh? And if it's really so instantly and harmlessly effective, so much for the Southeast Asian market for tiger penises and rhino horns as aphrodisiacs. Right?

This is probably the single closest thing to the Holy Grail of convenience pharmaceuticals in human history. Every culture has built up an entire set of traditions and practices around the central pillar of attracting a mate and performing well once that mate is attracted. Most of these practices are superstitious at best, and many of them are outright detrimental either to the users or to the victims of the poaching that supports it. And if this new drug is cheap and effective enough, it will sweep across the planet and wipe out a fundamental chunk of what most cultures in the world stand upon, overnight.

No, this isn't hyperbole. I think this might be one of the biggest bits of scientific advancement that humanity will have ever had to deal with.

Hey, most people aren't affected one way or the other whether the earth or the sun is the center of the Universe. But almost every person on Earth will be interested in an instant-sex drug.

But that's not even all. It's a nasal spray. It's instantly absorbed into the bloodstream and goes straight to the brain. How long do you suppose it will be before hot-to-trot penthouse dwellers mix it into an air freshener to circulate through their entry foyers for when their lady friends arrive? How long do you suppose it will be before rapists begin carrying tubes of it to spray randomly at people they attack? How long until bars and party halls spray it in a fine mist over the entire attending populace on a regular basis?

The ramifications are really pretty potentially huge. Think about it for a while.

16:10 - Today's Movies

Now it's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on TCM. I always wondered something about this movie: It's supposed to take place in Southern California, in the LA area. So why, why in the hell, does every single member of the 40-some-odd-person cast have that cheesy 40s Brooklyn accent?

"Yah doyty double-crossin' crook!"

It's also full of that ridiculous gee-whillikers crap that I can't imagine ever sounded plausible. Traffic cops who see a car go by at 90 mph, and respond by blowing their whistle! Really really hard and authoritatively! Like people who spot a burglar scuttling off into the night, and yell "Stop thief!" like he's going to suddenly be felled by a bolt of decency from the heavens and come slinking back with his hands in the air.

Were the 50s really like that? Hey, I have no way of knowing for sure. But this pop-culture ludicrosity has to have come from somewhere.

16:06 - In-N-Out is So Cool


The people in charge of In-N-Out Burger know from experience that all they have to do, if they want to instantly capture the lunchtime share of hundreds and hundreds of people in a neighborhood on a given day, is to open a store. They don't have to market. They don't have to advertise. They open up a store, and instantly the counter line will be out the door and the drive-thru line will be ten cars deep. And it won't ever dissipate. McDonalds only wishes they could have such a mad cult following.

The new In-N-Out on Capitol Expressway takes into account all the lessons of the previous ones, though. The drive-through lane travels all the way around the property, can fit at least fifteen cars, and they have runners on foot out at the end of the line taking orders on a wireless pad and exchanging money at the front of the line. It's all optimized so that one doesn't spend any more time in line there than in the drive-through for Wendy's or Taco Bell.

Now if only they hadn't built it in a corner shopping plaza where the only exits open onto one-way divided streets-- so it takes two minutes to get there and fifteen to wind my way back through surface streets...
Saturday, January 19, 2002
03:59 - To Europe With Love, from USS Clueless

USS Clueless has had just about enough of the European US-bashing and helpful advice that we've been hearing lately, and Captain den Beste gives them a piece of his mind.

The Twentieth Century is a tapestry of European failure and American success. If there's any arrogance here, it's the one held in the capitols of Europe where they still think of the US as some sort of rambunctious teenager who is strong but stupid and needs to be led by older and wiser heads. Experience proves otherwise. We've made our mistakes, but we haven't set off two world wars. That honor goes to our good friends in the UK, Germany and France, who don't seem to understand why the US isn't eager to follow their advice.

The whole post is full of stuff like that-- it's a whirlwind historical tour of the past century from the perspective of someone who has seen international tensions decline steadily over the past few decades to the point where nobody really remembers what the world climate was following WWII, or what the Americans' purpose was in occupying Europe. He's seen the post-war hair-trigger watchfulness dissolve into petty self-satisfied sniping at American commercial success and cultural imperialism and fat loud tourists who don't learn the local language wherever they go. And this does not please him.

Give it a read. It's pretty good stuff.

23:46 - "Down With Terrorism!" "I Like Chocolate!"

I still haven't decided yet what to think about all the people who have customized their cars with bumper stickers of American flags and related paraphernalia. One the one hand, sure-- you gotta feel like you're doing something. And yet... some of them just feel awfully silly.

I was at Fry's today, picking up a FireWire cable for the camera, when in the parking lot I walked past a truck that had, in a row, three different kinds of American flags, a "9/11: Never Again" sticker, and-- best of all-- a red circle-and-slash "NO" symbol. In the center? The word "TERRORISM".

Gee, I sure am glad to see that Fred Johnson with 2.4 kids has registered his disapproval of the events of September 11th. If he hadn't done that, I wouldn't have known what side of the issue he might support, and I'd have to watch my language and opinions lest I inadvertently offend him or rub him the wrong way. In fact, if he hadn't put that sticker on his truck, I may as well just go right ahead and assume it's loaded up with explosives and he's on his way down the 880 to blow up the Best Buy shouting "Allah akbar!"

Does there come a point where you should have to say "Yes, it's pretty bloody obvious that terrorism is not something we want to have happen"? Solidarity is one thing, but what is this-- one-upmanship? Is there community pressure to make sure you have the most stars and stripes on your car of all your neighbors-- a macabre sort of Christmas-lights contest? A race to see who in your parking lot at work hates Osama bin Laden the most?

Okay, okay-- if it helps you deal with your grief and your anger, that's fine. But I'd just like you to step back for a moment and ponder whether your car's bumper sticker display says anything useful, or whether it's just the post-9/11 equivalent of "NAPSTER BAD!"

19:55 - A Nice Lazy Saturday

So today's movies were The Story of Us (which I remember seeing at college with Allison), Being John Malkovich, and Bedazzled. All of which make for a very pleasant way to spend a day where I'm not doing much of anything else besides standing in the driveway using a long hook on a pole to drag branches out of the tree where our tree surgeon friend is helping to denude it of its most extraneous branches.

That's the nice thing about having HBO, in any case. There are about twenty movie channels to surf through, and so there's almost guaranteed to be something I'd rather watch than the inevitable weekend-long Scooby Doo marathon that Cartoon Network puts on.

What the hell is it with Scooby Doo? I refuse to believe that life in America was ever so dismal, even in 1970, that we would watch an episode of Scooby Doo and emit a genuine, honest laugh. What were we thinking? How did these shows keep getting made? Who paid for them? Who advertised on them? I know the animation industry was in a terrible slump at the time, but geez-- even a low-budged cartoon can be funny. It can have the occasional deft or intelligent joke. It can't possibly be so consistently infantile and embarrassing. Can it? I guess so-- we have an existence proof.

But no, I really want to understand this. How can something as inane as Scooby Doo get made? Were people just that much more easily entertained in the 70s? Were we really that white-bread and unsophisticated and undemanding? Did we in fact think it had ground-breaking, engaging scripts? Were we all brainwashed by fluoridated water piping Soviet gruel into our veins so we would all sit in our drab cinder-block apartments and consume whatever spewed out of the TV? We've got it pretty damn good today by comparison to that, if you ask me. We have a lot more discerning tastes. And we've got shows that match our expectation level: Space Ghost, Invader Zim, the Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack... life is good, and I'm glad I'm alive now and not then.

Well, Bedazzled is over-- time to do the next channel-flip maneuver.

05:40 - Whew, what a night.

Another Friday night, and what with new people in town for Further Confusion and lots of miscellaneous stuff to catch up on (yeah, mostly bizarre Flash movies and hot-tubbing). And now it's late, and I must sleep.

This will be the first weekend in about a month when I'll be able to just do blessed nothing. I may just be able to handle that.
Friday, January 18, 2002
22:41 - Hackers Can Turn Your Home Computer Into A BOMB!

Scanned directly from the Weekly World News.

Laugh, cry, and realize that millions and millions of people buy these fine periodicals every single day on their way out the checkout line... and they believe every last word they read there.

19:12 - Now Begins the Era of Exploding Phones!

Haa haaah! Soon will come the vengeance of all who hate people who use cell phones in public!

Seriously, how long do you think it will be before someone comes up with a device that you can carry around in your pocket, point at any cell phone in the near vicinity, and trigger the Boom Button?

Naturally there'll be a fearsome tennis match between phone makers coming up with more hack-proof explosion triggers and better hack tools to get around them. But there will always be enough phones around and enough remote exploders that if anyone should have their phone go off in the middle of a crowded theater or in line for Taco Bell, it stands a good chance of going POW and taking the talker's ear off, bringing a rush of satisfaction and an inward smirk to someone else in the room.

And you know what? I may just be that smirking person.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
00:02 - Damn, now that's what I call a birthday.

So I get home from work, and I'm greeted by Lance, Dusty, and Drew with a weird conspiratorial look on their faces. They sit me down on the couch, run around for a bit and reappear in front of me with their arms behind their backs, looking like Oompa-Loompas at a spelling bee. Then they whip out... a DV camera. And a tripod. And tapes.

Actually it's one of these things. A Canon ZR20. I'm completely at a loss... these guys rule so much. And now I have to think of something to do with it... oh! I know. Skiing is coming up soon...

The funniest thing is that I was completely expecting this birthday to go by without anybody noticing, let alone buying me anything. And I would have been perfectly happy with that. But geez, this...

26, before you ask. :)

20:19 - An Emotional Post-Mortem for Be

I was never a Be person, but that's only because I never really got around to it. And recently I've read enough about BeOS to know just how cool a thing we had. In the words of the song, don't it always seem to go...?

This article is by an editor at The Register attending an asset-liquidation auction of the now-dead company in a dimly lit storeroom. The people standing in line for their chance to bid have the air of the monks whapping themselves with boards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Pie Jesu Domine... <whap> dona eis requiem. <whap>" Idealistic young bit-heads who caught a glimpse of just how good we could have had it, if only the success of the world's companies and technologies wasn't determined by what company was willing to spend the most money to ensure that no competitor would never reach the public's eyes.

We should have taken a lesson from history. Oppressive despotic governments who control the media and never let the masses become aware that there's a huge, rich, free world out there beyond the borders-- they spend so much time building statues and holding tank parades that they don't have any left over for making the nation a place that anybody with a choice would ever want to be. But fortunately for them, the people don't know any better.

And so it is with the computer world. We've spent so many years with our heads encased in papier-mache boxes made of Microsoft's braying propaganda that we not only don't want to give anyone else a chance, we can't. We no longer have the capacity.

Well, we've reaped the reward now, and on the idyllic pasturelands of the alternative operating systems are built the stinking textile mills and coal mines of Windows: it fuels a population, sure, and it makes McDonald's possible. But don't ever go to see where the work actually gets done, where the machines scrape for purchase and a few more square feet of clear land into which to extend themselves. You don't want to see it.

It's enough to make a grown man weep.

13:54 - Guess it was just golfers exploding or something.

Still no word as to what those explosions were last night. But oddly enough, CNN.com chose just that time to start running all sorts of articles about how most cities in the US aren't prepared for terrorist attacks, particularly San Jose.

Meanwhile, prisoners in Guantanamo are vowing to kill their American captors, and Americans are raising hell about how we should be treating them more humanely. Isn't there something rather fundamentally backwards about this?

And finally, one of those lines that sounds really funny in a dream at 7:52AM:
"Richard Reid today in court pleaded 'I do not plead with American infidel dogs' in a sworn deposition..."
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
01:49 - Why the NES Was As Good As It Gets

I was talking with Hiker tonight, and he has a theory about how the NES was the Golden Age of gaming, and how today's console systems-- while their graphics are so immeasurably better, and the games are so much more complex-- do not make for an inherently better gaming experience.

I've never really gotten into 3-d... somehow, taking 2-d games and adding a third dimension makes them awkward and annoying and less fun, where it OUGHT to make things better by making the game deeper... but usually, it doesn't. Ech.

The SNES was a huge letdown. Let me tell you something that will be relevant again, very soon.

The reason the NES was a hit was because it was easy to make games for. The graphics were limited, but the system was easy to program for. Actually the lower res graphics helped it- it made development cycles for games shorter because less work was needed to make the graphic elements.

The SNES was a problem because now the graphics HAD to be good to justify the purchase of the game. They had to be detailed, animate well, etc, because now we would notice if they were cutting corners.

Suddenly the art department was on equal or greater footing then the programmers...

And it slowed them down. made games harder and more expensive to produce, :/

And games that couldn't survive any other way would get by solely on graphics... witness Mortal Kombat. Those games SUCKED but everyone played them...

I'm inclined to believe there's a lot of truth to this. Remember the "gamer generation" of the 80s? It was kids-- preteens, subsisting on a steady diet of Nintendo Power issues and immersed completely in the worlds of their games. Not in the community combat of Quake or Asheron's Call, but in the quest for the Triforce or Kuribo's Shoe. Sure, the graphics weren't complex, but that was the whole point. I remember whiling away many a happy weekend plotting out all the Mega Man villains on 1/4-inch graph paper so I could import them into the school's Apple IIgs machines in 816 Paint with big block cursors and smoothing them out to add my own detail. That's called back-end-loading the imagination onto the players, dude. Today's games leave nothing to the imagination, and so while they'll keep players entertained, they won't inspire them.

So are we past the curve now? Is there no going back? It may be... and that's a pretty sad thing. But I'm glad I was there to enjoy the Golden Age while it was there; and I'm glad for emulators that let me relive it anytime I want.

01:31 - What the Hell Was That?

Lance and I were out in the hot tub a little earlier, and we saw a series of very bright bluish-white flashes of light on the southeastern horizon. Soundless, but they lit up the entire sky.

First there were two or three flashes in quick succession, like a very regimented lightning strike (but the sky was clear)... then a pause of about 15 seconds, and then another couple of flashes, exactly the same.

We have no idea what it was. One theory was that the power station lost a transformer, but the flashes seemed way too regular and uniform for that-- and besides, the Metcalfe substation isn't in that direction.

We're hoping there's some mention of it in the news later. Big mysterious flashes aren't very reassuring these days.

21:18 - Hey, sometimes Dell does do cool design...


I'm not above admitting that on occasion Dell can package a nice piece of technology. Like this one that our IT guy just put on his desk. It's a $1700 20-inch LCD monitor with a genuinely cool-looking body. It's even fairly ergonomic, except for the giant Dell logo in the middle that looks like it's supposed to be a button (to bring up the Dell website, probably). And I'm not sure why an LCD would need all those other buttons anyway.

But what I especially like is that it has four inputs-- VGA, S-video, composite video, and DVI. That's three analog and one digital. And if you hook up more than one of them (this is the really cool part), it can do picture-in-picture stuff. So you can, say, have your desktop PC hooked up via DVI, and the football game or a movie playing in a small window.

Granted, it's still not as big as the Apple Cinema Display, nor does it have the cool slide-your-keyboard-underneath design or the letterbox layout. But it is cheaper and does more. And it looks pretty nifty for a Dell.

(Still, though, I've had my Cinema Display for over two years now, and this thing is only just now hitting the market.)

14:50 - It's just a typo... really!

Oh, this is good. They meant to get a plaque honoring James Earl Jones, to be used as part of a Martin Luther King celebration. But the Texas contractor who made the plaque instead used the name James Earl Ray, King's assassin.

"Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive."

Indeed. Naturally there are all kinds of people accusing it of being done on purpose (because, hey, if it were for real, that'd be a pretty hard-hitting subtle sick joke). But of course they claim it was simply a typo.

"Whoops! I meant to type 'King', but 'Ray' was just one set of keys over on the keyboard.'

Uh huh. Yeah, and James Earl Ray is so much more famous than James Earl Jones, too.


13:08 - Mmmmmmeat

Forum this morning on NPR had a chef (Anthony something-- didn't catch his full name) talking about his experiences in world cuisine. And naturally, just as I pulled into the parking lot at work, some guy named Alfredo called in and started reading off what sounded like a rehearsed PETA manifesto: "An animal is a living being, with thoughts and emotions, and I find it offensive and disgusting that you would consider sacrificing such a being for the sake of food." And I had to hang around in my car just to hear the chef's response.

"I agree-- animals have thoughts and emotions, and I do believe that there's very little difference between us and animals in that regard. However, I'm a little faster, and a little smarter."

He clearly didn't want to make enough of a joke out of it to enrage the caller, but I wish he had. See, it's all very well and good to pretend that it's somehow "natural" to live our lives without eating food that our teeth and taste buds and digestive systems are designed to eat. But people who predicate vegetarianism on the idea that "humans are no different from animals" shoot their argument in the foot purely by making the decision to not eat meat. Animals don't feel any such qualms, do they? So why do we? "Well, beause we're more intelligent and sentient--" Whoops! Guess we're not so "no different from animals" after all, are we?

It's like Douglas Adams' disproof of the existence of God:
GOD: "I refuse to prove that I exist, for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
MAN: "Well, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It couldn't have evolved by itself. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."
GOD: "Whoops, I hadn't thought of that. <poof>"

If you make the argument that humans and animals are subject to the same laws of nature and have the same (or similar) mental capacities, you have to accept that eating meat is a much more natural part of life for animals shaped like humans than eating couscous and hummus is.

Now, this doesn't deny that killing animals for food sucks, or that veal farms or stockyards are grotesque. But, well, the tigers and the wolves somehow got over the ethical dilemma. I'll bet they would feel remorse over it, but oh wait, I forgot, we're actually mentally different from them after all, right? C'mon. Killing for food sucks, but it's how this planet works. You don't like it, feel free to pack up and leave.

Or if my argument isn't worded well enough, there's always the 2 rant on the subject (warning: explicit language ahead).

12:48 - The Coolest Spam in the World

I got this back in mid-October, as did a lot of other people; I would have mentioned it here if I had been blogging back then, but-- hey, the cool thing about the Internet is that it knows all, sees all, and remembers all.

Subject: attention time travelers and aliens

If you are an alien disguised as human and or have the technology to travel physically through time I need your help!

Also if you are from, I'm not sure this is the correct pronunciation: The planet (Valnator) please reply.

My life has been severely tampered with and cursed by a very evil women of my past.
I have suffered tremendously!

I need to be able to:

Travel physically back in time.

Rewind my life including my age.

Be able to remember what I know now so that I can prevent my life from being tampered with again after I go back.

I am in great danger and need this immediately!

Only if you are an alien or have this technology please send me a separate email to:



Poor guy. I sure hope someone was kind enough to help him out.

But what I like best about this spam is that it's not selling anything, it's not offering anything, it's not a virus, it's not a Trojan. It's just cool. Someone went to the effort a regular spammer goes to purely in order to make everyone's day on the Internet a little more surreal. And I think that kicks ass.
Monday, January 14, 2002
02:53 - Oh, now that's good.

Lileks is so fun to read. There you are, whittling your way through a series of languid observations on radio commentators and the way the snow looks on the fences and trees and new historical documentaries on DVD, and suddenly, without warning, you'll run across a gem like:

I have an odd reaction everytime the camera shows the World Trade Center:

I want to be bad. I want to throw stones at birds. I want to embezzle from my employer and lie to my wife; I want to gamble my daughter's college fund. I want to live a life of petty evil so I end up in hell, and I can spend eternity kicking Mohammad Atta's ass.

It would almost be worth it.

11:50 - Judge Flunks Microsoft School Plan

Well, good. See, I'm generally encouraged by the judges in this country. Almost all of them seem to exhibit an admirable level of intelligence and an unwillingness to be fooled by wily lawyers.

I still treasure Judge Jackson's "Counsel, I know what a DLL is. Please move on."

Now if only they could move things along in such a way that time-sensitive cases like this could be settled before such settlement becomes irrelevant.
Sunday, January 13, 2002
01:07 - Hello? Anybody read any Steinbeck lately?

Okay, this is something that's been bugging me ever since I got online.

People are using the word "Okie" as though it were a perfectly innocent word, a cutesy variation on "Okay". But to many people, particularly people from Oklahoma-- or to anybody who's ever known or read anything about them in the past seventy years-- that word is a very offensive, pejorative term. Sort of like "Redneck" or "Yid".

Maybe I should be happy that our language has effectively lost a potential word of cultural derision from its vocabulary. But I can't help but think that the people who say "Hey, let's go to the movies!" "Okies!" would choose different wording if they'd ever read any of the literature that was specifically written so that that period of American history should not be forgotten.

00:56 - Thanks, Southwest, For Another Outstanding Flight

Once again, I've been reminded of why it is I enjoy flying Southwest. The flight attendants, with their flippant manner and easy (if occasionally stock) comedy, do an excellent job of making you forget that you've just been through a process of having your car searched, your laptop and iPod sent through the X-ray machine in a separate tray, had to say good-bye to your loved ones before the security checkpoint, and been subject to random bag searches at the gate-- and let you feel like everything's normal again. Sitting on a plane and laughing is so very therapeutic these days.

"If we could just pretend to have your attention for a few minutes, we'd like to go over the safety features..."
"Electronic devices must be turned off. If we catch you using an electronic device before we've said it's okay, you will be voted off the island."
"Smoking is never, never, never, never, never, never permitted in an airplane lavatory."
"We will be dimming the lights in order to enhance the beauty of our flight attendants."
"We'll be arriving early into San Jose, as we promised; unfortunately, we're only 25 minutes early."
"Remember, cell phones must be switched off until the front doors have been opened. If you've slipped and accidentally turned on your phone, please feel free to slip and accidentally turn it back off."
"For your own safety and the safety of those you may fall on, please remain seated..."
"Please remain in your seat until we have pulled up to the gate and the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign. When that happens, please feel free to unbuckle your belt, move to the center aisle, and go absolutely nowhere."
"Since we've gotten you into San Jose 25 minutes early, please go out and tell whoever's meeting you that Southwest got you in 25 minutes early. Because we know that if we got you in 25 minutes late, you'd be out there telling your friends all about it."
"If you have a connecting flight this late on Southwest, please look at the video monitors in the gate area for connection information. If you have a connecting flight on another airline, well, we simply don't care."
"One more thing: If you enjoyed your flight today, this was Southwest, and your flight attendants were Dale, Maya, and Jennifer. If you didn't enjoy your flight, this was Northwest, and your flight attendants were Bill, Hillary, and Monica."

You go, Dale. And long live Southwest.

Now if only my left ear had popped on the way down from 37,000 feet. Ow ow ow.

10:43 - Wrapping up the weekend...

Well, it's just a few hours till I get on the plane to come home from Chicago, and I probably shouldn't even be typing this now, because I don't want to waste any of the dwindling time left doing things I could do anywhere. So I'll keep this brief.

Chicago is a city unlike any I've been in before; the downtown is long and strung-out along the lakeside, and the size of the buildings I just can't get over. But beyond that is the sense of history that's all over the place-- even more so than in some Eastern cities. You really get a feeling of how the city has changed and evolved over the years-- unlike a lot of things in the Midwest, there's a geometry to the place and an inherent sense of direction. The river in the middle of the city is actually still in its original bed and as full as it always was, unlike in LA or San Jose. And the way they light up downtown with purple floodlighting is really cool.

I'll write more about this later, most likely. Time to get back to what I was doing (e.g. ignoring my e-mail and stuff).
Thursday, January 10, 2002
11:38 - Interesting.

So it seems that Southwest, while it's the only airline that appears to have been relatively undamaged by the recent 9/11-related airline woes, has had to alter a few fundamentals in its trademark process in the interest of security. Namely, they can't just give out those plastic boarding cards anymore; they also have to print out a little "Boarding Document" card and write the number from the plastic card on it. They also require both the plastic and the paper cards and your ID in order to board.

Not that I'm complaining; it's all relatively transparent to me (just one more thing to hold onto, and one more checkpoint where I need to pull out my wallet), but it's interesting to see the various concessions that each airline has had to make lately.

11:09 - Hey, this stuff's pretty cool...

I gotta say, $7 for a day's worth of wireless Internet access in the airport is pretty dang cool. Lets me take care of all my morning net chores while I'm waiting for the guys with the rifles to go the other direction.

Anyway, I'll be in Chicago till Sunday night, so probably no bloggage till then.

Eek! The ticket line just opened up. Must close..
Wednesday, January 9, 2002
23:12 - Microsoft is Caught (Again) Ballot-Box Stuffing

Can you believe this? Not for the first time, an online poll (this one deciding whether Java or Microsoft's .NET initiative was the more popular choice for building web services) has been abused by Microsoft itself in order to "prove" the superiority of their products.

Before the ballot-box rigging:
Java 69.5%
.NET 21.5%

Java 12%
.NET 75%

All because someone at MS sent around an e-mail saying "PLEASE STOP AND VOTE FOR .NET!", and apparently everybody did.

See, that's what I'm talking about, with ethics. It wasn't just people casting a single honest vote-- even assuming the employees in question were able to justify their own work on .NET as qualifying as "building web services" in the sense intended by the poll. No, this was people setting up scripts to try to cast multiple votes, people manually voting over and over again... hey, never mind whether anyone will notice or anything. Just rock the vote! It's the American Way! Hey, the public supports it!

Maybe any company would have acted this way in MS's position. But I know the people in my workplace wouldn't, and I don't think we're unique. No, I think it takes a special kind of person to work at Microsoft. And that's why Americans love 'em.

20:42 - Hey, at least they keep up with the news...


See, I like Penny Arcade. It's never malicious enough to make me angry, but it's just incisive enough to force me to make sure I'm aware of my foibles and those of my compatriots.

And for what it's worth, if you look at their main page, the authors of the strip are clearly not anti-Apple in any way. Which does my heart good, to see a strip so closely oriented around gaming that isn't predicated on a deep-seated and searing hatred of Macs. Maybe I've got it all wrong.

And hey, at least we're being good comic relief to somebody, right? :)

20:04 - The File-Sharing Generation Enters its "80's"

Hey, take a look. Trojans installed silently by file-swapping programs.

What this says to me is not so much that file-swapping is inherently evil or anything. No, what I see is the end of the Free Love era of Napster and the countless Naplets.

I could go ahead and draw the parallels if you want me to: AIDS and other STDs, along with general social change, brought about the end of the freewheeling hippie era. And in the same way, we can't be sure-- if we're running some file-sharing program-- that it isn't installing some silent password-snooper or URL-logger against our wishes.

But while that's an obvious parallel that's easy to op-ed about, there's the other, less obvious, less awareness-sensitive, more insidious side. And that's the fact that file-sharing programs aren't free anymore. That's right-- you fire up your P2P application to snarf down some free music, and you end up paying for the privilege.

Perhaps not in the sense that you pay-per-play, as with the recording companies' services, or in the sense that you pay each time you log on, or even in the sense that the programs are commercial. I'm talking about the fact that the Internet in general, including its grass-roots-grown software, is becoming ad-ware.

Take a stroll around your favorite fan websites. Do you see a single one these days that doesn't have banner ads, pop-up ads, pop-under ads? You'd understand the big commercial sites like ZDNet embedding huge ads in the middle of articles that the text has to wrap around, but now it's extended even to the personal labors-of-love that gave the Internet its unprecedented reach. Seanbaby.com has banner ads. As the Apple Turns has banner ads. In fact, if you find a site that doesn't have banner ads, chances are that it's only because the author is independently wealthy and can afford dedicated co-location bandwidth on a scale that most people are unwilling to commit their resources to it.

And the same goes for software. I was shocked to find that LimeWire (the Gnutella client for Mac OS X) now has a "free" (ad-laden) version and a "commercial" (ad-free) version... until I discovered that just about everybody else now operates by the same scheme. AudioGalaxy has banner ads. KaZaA has embedded ads. Advertising, often for companies with very shady reasons for existence (X-10 cameras for spying on your neighbor's wife? Online gambling? Porn sites?), is becoming the lifeblood even of the independent, individualistic shareware that got the file-sharing generation off to its start.

So before too long, I would imagine that the financial gap between paying for music (on a CD, or from the official online music services) and getting it for "free" via P2P apps will shrink, until inevitably it will vanish altogether. Why can't you make a TV show and put it on the air? Because the airwaves are heavily regulated and the financial barriers-to-entry are very high. Who pays for the TV shows that do make it onto the air? Advertisers. And if you don't have advertisers, you have to nag the viewers, like PBS does.

It'll take a long time, certainly; the Internet, by its nature, fosters free exchange of thought like nothing ever has before. But not if that thought involves serving multi-megabyte chunks of data to thousands of clients per day. That costs bandwidth. And bandwidth isn't becoming "too cheap to meter"-- the only condition where file-sharing could conceivably remain truly free. Instead, the supply of bandwidth is growing only very, very slowly, and it remains very expensive. Infrastructure is costly, and someone has to pay for it. And that means that unless the Internet's infrastructure somehow becomes irrelevant-- and, like, soon, before its costliness leads to oligopoly and regulation, like TV has-- then we're going to see a long, slow, steady decline in how "free" our Internet experience really is.

Hiker notes:

In the 1980s software piracy soared as people stopped wanting to PAY for stuff...

... and before long, pirates and hackers were putting ads for their BBS in, prefacing the software with annoying demos, and using them to transmit viruses. :)

12:32 - Sorry, teacher-- here's my note...

Sorry about the lack of bloggage yesterday (that is, assuming anybody is actually reading this thing). Yesterday-- well, I think the Wendy's burger I had on Monday night was imbued with evil, or perhaps it was haunted by Dave Thomas' unquiet spirit. In any case, it made my Tuesday very unpleasant, and I didn't feel much like reading e-mail, blogging, or indeed doing very much besides lying curled up in a fetal position. But that's passed, it would seem, so back to your irregularly scheduled blatherings.
Sunday, January 6, 2002
21:50 - Now even bin Laden has copycats...


Remember when we were worried that kids would shoot up their schoolyards after listening to too much Marilyn Manson and playing too much Counterstrike?

Now we're going to have to start a Million Mom March to get the International Terrorism industry to back off from creating a bad influence on our kids, just like the gaming industry and the goth music industry already did.

I wish this kid had lived, so we could see the interviews. "Yeah, y'know, I was really like pissed off at the world, cuz like all these popular kids were all popular and stuff and they didn't understand me or think I was cool for wearing trench coats and little round orange glasses in class. The class president liked to make fun of me, and his mom was killed in the World Trade Center, so I figured the best way to get back at him was..." ...as he looks over his shoulder at the broken window where his Cessna crashed.

Hey, parents who want to blame the Internet and goth music for your kids being screwed up: if you take those influences away, the world will just come up with worse ones.

04:16 - Star Wars: Obi-Wan Review (Hint: it sucks)

Hmm, funny I should mention George Lucas in that previous post, eh? Particularly intended, as I did, to correspond to Microsoft and the Xbox?

Because while before Christmas I was distressed to discover that the local Electronics Boutique had become transformed into a black-and-glowing-green tank full of Xbox-only stuff, with just one corner in the back of the store still holding a pathetic defense of games for other platforms, and big posters for the upcoming Star Wars-themed Xbox games filling the front windows-- this review tells me there's at least not much to worry about as far as those games go.

04:05 - Salon Predicts a Long, Humiliating March of Death for the Xbox

A very refreshing article to read, at least for me. It focuses on the Xbox's future as a function of the games that are and will be available for it, and how game developers are reacting to it as a platform. We get a good glimpse into the creative distinctions between Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft (well, Microsoft's purchased game-developing subsidiaries), and what it is that makes a game into a killer app that will sell the console unaided.

Halo is upheld as the big, central Xbox title-- but the article forgets to mention that it will be available for PC and Mac shortly, which is a very significant point. Halo, the only game that people universally admire the Xbox for, is not even an exclusive for the platform.

Munch's Oddysee, the only other game to get much attention in the article as having the potential to capture gamers' imaginations, is described as being successful largely because it plays just like certain other wildly popular platformers from the past. Namely, it "...feels a lot like Shigeru Miyamoto's Super Mario games, but with internal organs for heroes."

It goes on to describe a ton of games that are being developed for the PS2 primarily because it's the clear winner in developers' eyes-- but also because Sony is more of a company that developers trust with their creative visions. According to Greg LoPiccolo, VP of product development for Harmonix Music Systems, "FreQuency is an extremely innovative game and we knew that we were going to need an innovative publisher to 'get' our vision and to take the product to market properly. Sony is a company that has always been progressive in this regard."

So a console's success is not based purely on its specs, and different console-selling companies do in fact have real (or at least perceived) differences in their creative atmospheres and visions. This isn't "Company A vs. Company B vs. Company C". It's Steven Spielberg vs. Stanley Kubrick vs. the present-day George Lucas.

I'll leave it up to you to decide which of the three companies I mean those to represent.
Saturday, January 5, 2002
15:03 - Revisionism in Movies Post-Attacks

This whole article is very good reading, but I certainly hope the first observation it makes is not true-- that Peter Jackson is under pressure to rename the second LotR movie from The Two Towers to avoid reminding people of the World Trade Center.

A quick glance through TheOneRing.net turns up no such rumors, but that's not definitive by any stretch.

I don't think it'll happen in any case. Jackson is from New Zealand, which means he won't have the same emotional connection to the WTC that we do. When he hears phrases like "Twin Towers", he probably thinks of the Petronas Towers before the WTC. (Actually he probably thinks of Isengard and Barad-dûr, and probably did before he ever took on this project.)

And he won't be getting this kind of pressure as time goes on, either. I would guess that later in the year, we won't be seeing this kind of insane desire to cover up the past. I predict that starting in about two or three years, the movie execs will have noticed a change in the air, and we'll suddenly get all kinds of movies about terrorism, New York, and terrorism in New York-- and watch, they'll spend millions of dollars to set them pre-2001 and digitally ADD the World Trade Center towers back in. You just watch.

Right after the attacks, a friend and I noted that we'll probably never see the Simpsons episode "
The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
" again, and that the guy selling Khlau Kalash in the plaza between the towers was now gone. No more crab juice for Homer. Only Mountain Dew.

But I suspect we'll be seeing that episode again soon. Maybe not this month or next, but by the end of the year. I hope it comes sooner rather than later, and same with the terrorism movies and the WTC imagery.

Because we need to get people desensitized so their delicate sensibilities won't be offended when The Two Towers comes out for Christmas.
Friday, January 4, 2002
14:13 - How to Good-Bye Depression!


Believe it or not, this is a real book. The complete title is: How to Good-Bye Depression : If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?

And here we thought Engrish was limited to amateur websites devoted to reveling in this particular splendidly vacuous variant on recognizable language. Now it's something you can pick up in Borders.
"If you don't know concentration, which gives you peculiar pleasure, your life looks like hell."

Word up, yo.

11:26 - Waaait a minute.

So now we're dropping Photoshopped pictures of bin Laden on al Qaeda to try to convince them that Osama has put on a suit and tie and gone off to blend into the West. And we're admitting this.

We're doing actual, real live (shoddy) Soviet-style made-up propaganda. And all this time I thought one of the biggest challenges we had to face in the world courtroom was the popular conception that we're not above making stuff up and lying and grinding the propaganda machine. Those of us who had faith in the government were pretty sure that whatever else we were doing, we weren't doing blatant propaganda. Those leaflets we dropped early in the campaign were extravagantly worded ("Attention Taliban! Your days are numbered!"), but none of them turned out to be false.

But now we're up against a Muslim world that thinks the US is so technologically advanced and so lacking in principles that we conjured up the "Osama tape"-- the one where he gloated about Sept. 11 at a dinner party-- from scratch. Our challenge is to convince hard-line Muslim extremists that we were just sitting there minding our own business when the planes hit us, and that Osama planned it-- something they refuse to believe. And why should they? Even with the "smoking gun" tape, in their minds it's completely reasonable that we manufactured it. "They have all that technology," they said. "It's just Western propaganda."

But at least up till now we had the benefit of knowing (with the certainty of people who live with our level of technology every day, and who are notoriously skeptical anyway-- the iWalk photos weren't posted for a day before they'd been Zapruder'ed to death) that the tape was real and we didn't make anything up. We don't do that sort of thing! We're the United States!

...Until now, apparently. Now how are we supposed to defend against accusations of using technology to manufacture truth?

And that's not the worst part! Donald Rumsfeld, quoted in CNN's article:

Asked whether the leaflet could be used by some to say the United States is willing to doctor or make up things -- as has been alleged about the videotape found in Afghanistan by the United States -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had not thought about the possibility

Rumsfeld, speaking at Thursday's Pentagon media briefing, said there was "nothing much" the United States could do about what others might claim about the leaflets.

"The whole premise of bin Laden's activities in the world are premised on lies and the fact that people will say things, like you just said they might say, is true," he said.

Bullshit. We can not play into their accusations, for one thing. Who the hell is vetting Rumsfeld's decisions here? The same person who told Bush that it was okay to call the war against terrorism a "Crusade"? Here I'd thought that we'd pulled neatly away from that monstrous gaffe (to Muslims, "Crusade" means, specifically, "Christian war against Islam") and gotten a brain. But now evidently it hadn't occurred to Rumsfeld that Photoshopping a picture of bin Laden to create a premise for sale to al Qaeda would be exactly what the people who bitterly hate the US have been accusing us of doing.

If this doesn't completely wreck our international credibility, I don't know what will. Thanks a lot, Donald.
Thursday, January 3, 2002
19:38 - "FreeBSD Unleashed" Reviewed by Daemon News


Woo-hoo! FreeBSD Unleashed has just been reviewed by Daemon News, the official news organ for FreeBSD. The reviewer, Linh Pham, gives an overall pretty glowing recommendation-- there are a few chastisements over topics we glossed over, but there was particular praise for the Network Security chapter, which I was pretty proud of-- so that makes me all happy and stuff.

There's also word of another five-star reader review over at Amazon.com, and the editors say it's "selling through very well", so maybe I'll let down my guard on my guarded optimism. :)

19:02 - It's the Circle of Geeeeeeeks...

This is worth a laugh and a half. And don't nobody think you're safe, because someone, somewhere, considers himself or herself less geeky than you. After all, you're reading a web page!

13:01 - Look Both Ways Before Crossing History

Forum on NPR this morning had Chris Hitchens, self-proclaimed "anti-theist" who has just published a book exploring some of the less-savory aspects of people like Mother Teresa. His thesis, as he stated it on the show:

"The thought that we are being supervised by a divine Deity, from dawn till dusk, from cradle to grave-- actually, from before we're born till after we die-- I can't imagine a more horrible thought. It would be like living in North Korea-- only your whole life, without any hope of the regime ever changing. And I'm sorry, but people who believe in that are simply asking to be slaves."

I just thought that was kinda funny-- especially coming as it was in such proper British terms from such a proper British mouth. This is the kind of thing I would have just eaten up in high school. Since then I've developed a more thorough appreciation for religion, though really no interest in it myself-- but I can certainly see how it might help someone to center his or her ethical system in the absence of other means to do so.

Hitchens did mention that people like Martin Luther King-- who are often held up before him as examples of the beneficial effects of religion-- are not good people because they are religious, but that they would be good people whether they were religious or not. A Dr. King can just as easily come from a person's own ethics and principles as from the pulpit. The only difference is that he'd be doing it of his own free will, rather than out of fear of going to Hell.

You don't have to be religious to fall in love, to feed the starving, to give back to your community, or to go to Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in a retaliatory and preventive measure. However, you do have to be religious to forbid love to someone not of your faith or to discriminate because of religion or to turn September 11th into a reason to drop a bomb into the middle of Mecca and destroy all of Islam. Indeed, you do have to be religious to hijack planes and crash them into civilian buildings because God told you to.

This may offend some people, but I don't mean it to. It's just something I've had on my mind since the attacks, since seeing the outraged ultra-right-wing Crusade-happy reaction to them, and this is as good a place as any to air it. There are good religious people and there are bad religious people, just as there are good and bad non-religious people. I'm not prepared to suggest the relative proportions of which there are. But we all need to accept the importance of analyzing things from an unfamiliar viewpoint once in a while-- for the non-religious, consider the scriptural. For the religious, consider the secular. Because Janus was truly the most gifted of the gods.
Wednesday, January 2, 2002
23:35 - Mmmm, Round Table.


Round Table is the world's most perfect chain pizza. Everything's fresh, the sauce is nice and spicy, the ingredients are layered on thick, the cheese is mmm--so good.

The sauce was weirdly sweet tonight, though. That's another thing I kinda like about Round Table: there's just enough variation from pizza to pizza to make it interesting without ever running much of a risk of getting a dud pizza.

Just one of those little indulgences that make life worth living.

23:02 - Banished Words

Lake Superior State University has released a newly updated list of words that should be excised from the English language-- at least in their opinion. Most frequently this is because the words are new and would seem to displace older, perfectly serviceable usage. Often it's because they are "weasel words", of the type that George Carlin or Scott Adams point out with such vigor and insight. Many entries are quite funny, but while I had originally intended simply to link to the page with a giggle and a brief note, over the course of reading it I came to the conclusion that many of the nominated words really don't deserve to be there.

It seems to me that many of the nominators fear change. At the very least they take issue with the vocabulary of segments of society that they don't know very much about. "Functionality", for one example, is a very meaningful word in software engineering. Yes, we could describe every aspect of the new features in an updated piece of software in its brief description-- but that would turn it into a long description, which generally appears elsewhere. You say "Increased functionality" to say that the software does more, as opposed to being a "bug fix" release, which makes the software work properly when doing the things it already does.

I'm glad to see constructions like "If... then the terrorists win" and "solutions" get the thumbs-down. But many of these new-fangled words have very specific meaning to the people who use them, and to ignore that is to display willful ignorance of the field for which it is meaningful. It's also to deny English of one of its great strengths: a vocabulary so rich and so full of shades of meaning that you can use it to describe things in much greater physical and metaphorical detail than in almost any other language. There's a subtle difference between "In the wake of" and "after", and between "foreseeable future" and "future", and between "forewarn" and "warn", and (especially in some of the jobs we do) between "making money" and "earning money".

Read through the list, but don't scoff at each entry just because it's there. Decide for yourself which words you would actually choose to use over their alternatives, and which words you yourself think ought to go.

16:42 - Bearded like the pard!

Okay, so I did it: this morning I didn't shave my whole face, just the stuff on the sides. So now I have a fledgling goatee, or whatever this kind of thing is called.

It still isn't thick enough to really show (it's times like this that I'm really glad to be blonde), but I'll take a picture when it is.
Tuesday, January 1, 2002
19:26 - Eurology

Did anybody else hear coverage of that gala musical introduction concert for the Euro? They talked about it a little bit on NPR just now. It was like a rock opera about the security features of the new notes. It had to have been the most ridiculous thing I've heard all this year. (Okay, so that's not saying much yet, but...)

"It's a high-tech note that's sweeping the world
A printing process that's ahead of its time...
With security strips in the fabric mat, ooh yeah
And raised dots for the bliiiiind!"

I wish I could find a verbatim transcript. I've just got to have a copy of this song.

16:10 - So Much For "Restful"

There's football or tractor pulls or something on TV downstairs, so I'm going to work.

Even on a #$%@#$ holiday I can't get away from the $#%@#@! sports.

05:33 - Well, that's a first...

This was the first time I ever spent midnight on New Year's on the freeway.

Instead of doing whatever my friends were doing-- which turned out to be taking 360-degree panorama photos of all of us in a repeated loop to make into a QuickTime VR movie with each person appearing three or four times-- I spent the tick-over hour listening to a Cuban salsa and mambo concert on NPR. The ten-second countdown was done to the tune of a song that sounded very much like "Oye Como Va", which afterwards gave way to variations on "Guantanamera" and other such crowd-pleasers. Definitely not the usual way I spend this night.

It was interesting being on the freeway at that time, though. 880 was almost deserted. In the stretch between 101 and 280 in downtown San Jose, I never saw a single other car in my direction, either ahead of me or behind me. Very spooky. But I did catch a brief glimpse of fireworks through the trees.

I was about 15 minutes late getting home for the midnight festivities, but it was worth it-- I'd just come from dropping off my folks in Larkspur after a very fun and very full day of sightseeing in San Francisco. We saw about five minutes of the Ansel Adams exhibit at SFMOMA, looked in on the Metreon, walked up to Chinatown for dinner, rode cable cars down to Fisherman's Wharf, did Ghirardelli Square for dessert, then walked down the Embarcadero to see the huge crowd gathering at the Ferry Building for the impending fireworks display and the booming speakers with dance music to stream out over the crowd.

"Welcome to San Francisco, the most beautiful city in the world!"

I must admit, it looked it. And it felt it. One of these years I'll have to go up and take part in that crowd.
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© Brian Tiemann