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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, May 5, 2002
17:42 - Everything but blogging this weekend...

Much apology for the lack of blog content here (yeah, I'm sure hundreds of people are just getting all itchy and restless over it). I've been spending all day yesterday and today in video-editing, picture-obtaining, and application-filling-out for the under-the-wire application for The Amazing Race that my dad says we have to enter. It's due on Wednesday.

But I just finished editing the video to under the required 3 minutes (actually, it's 2 minutes, 59 seconds, and 21 frames) and transferring it to VHS. And now I'm about to head over to the beach or something.

See, this is what I mean, about weekends being my time to "relax". I think this is how I relax.
Saturday, May 4, 2002
05:33 - Random Responses to Random Observations

Matt Robinson has some observations about stupid UI decisions in the world. I'd like to take this opportunity to add my own comments, and thereby to call attention to his own laugh-out-loud blog.
  1. Trillian has "emotisounds" enabled by default now. This means that when chatting on IRC or ICQ, or.. whatever, and someone types "OMG LOL!!!1" my computer makes a hideous giggling sound. Gah! I really worry about some people who type "LOL". They seem to do it a hell of a lot, and I can't help but wonder if they really are "laughing out loud" or just sniggering and stuffing more lard and coke down their throats. People who express their emotions with acronyms scare me. Actually no, they piss me off; it highlights an increasing inability for people to communicate effectively with each other.

I've wondered about "LOL" for a long time. Now, I'm under no illusions that anybody who types "LOL" ever means that he's actually, physically, laughing out loud. The likelihood of that is pretty frickin' slim. But that's not what gets me. No, what gets me is this: People have overused "LOL" to the point where they have evidently forgotten what it stands for entirely. Nothing else can explain how it gets used periodically these days:
A variation on the venerable "hehehehe", which I have loathed with a secret burning passion ever since I first encountered it being spewed by AOLers back in 1994. An abbreviated, iconic shorthand, that form was popularized apparently as some kind of attempt to appear as some kind of technological superstar-- you're playing your keyboard like a guitar! Wheedle on those two keys, and it sounds like you're laughing to the guy on the other end! Boy-howdy, you can sure make that fingerboard sing! Hehehehe!

But somehow it got mated with "LOL"-- an onomatopoeia mingled with an acronym-- to form "LOLOLOLOL", which evidently the same AOLers can read fluently. I don't know-- to me, it can mean only two things:
  1. "Laughing out loud out loud out loud out loud"
  2. Something that sounds sort of like "Low low low low low low"

Sure, accuse me of being pedantic. But I challenge anyone to read out loud a passage of text containing "LOLOLOL" and not read it as one of the two possibilities above. And then, I further challenge, I dare you to ever attempt to use it again.

This one is just precious. It completely abandons any pretense of being an acronym-- I don't think any AOLer, even, could type this while under the impression that "Laughing out out out out out out out loud!" is a meaningful expression. No, this one is just "LOL" that's been streeeeeeeetched in order to affect more emphasis.

It's silly, it's obvious, it's cheap. But still, I would dare somebody to read it out loud with a straight face.

And for extra credit, immediately follow it with "And DROOOOOOOOOOL!"

The other point to which I must respond is this:
  1. Microsoft's OLE (and later ActiveX, COM, COM+, etc) gimmick when Win 3 and 3.1 came out was that "Whee! Look, you can put bits of Excel inside Word!" thing... Which was alright for some things I guess: it's convenient to be able to edit some figures in a report document without having to load up Excel and reimport the table. They overstepped the line when Outbreak Outlook Express used this same functionality to show HTML in email using Internet Explorer's rendering engine though. Aside from the whole huge virus/trojan/worm issues that this caused, I'm pissed off that advertising companies can send me mail that requests images from their servers which allows them to set cookies that link my email address to the web pages I visit (and thereby allows them to build up a profile on me in order to send me more unwanted advertising). And the virus issue just will not go away. The only way this will stop is if Microsoft rewrites Outhouse Outlook Express from scratch and makes some fundamentally different design decisions about what their product should and shouldn't be able to do.

My response to this is brief:

"...Or, conceivably, if people will ever take the apocalyptically drastic step of using some other program than Outlook or Outlook Express for their e-mail."

(Though, of course, that's a pipe dream. Every bit as much as is the possibility of open-source software producting professional-grade, easy-to-use, consistent and useful consumer desktop software.)

That is all.
Thursday, May 2, 2002
02:15 - Ahead of its time, I guess...

A NewsRadio episode from 1996 or so had a line regarding trying to remove an embarrassing picture from the Internet:

"You can't take something off of the Internet. It'd be like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool."

22:21 - Steven den Beste is a war criminal!

Go read this post of his. Then you'll see that I mean it as a compliment.

21:51 - Now that's just cool.


Lileks' latest Bleat contained the rhetorical thought, "If Saudi Arabia had a Star Trek, do you think they’d put a Jewish Chekov at the helm?" To which Glenn Reynolds responded, "Indeed. Of course the phrase "If Saudi Arabia had a Star Trek," captures much of the problem all by itself, doesn't it?"

Here's another little example of the culture clash we've got on our hands: a website that allows anybody in the world to send pizza to active-duty soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. $16.95 will buy a pizza and Pepsi for five soldiers, properly Kosher and everything.

This is the kind of moral support that I'll bet they'd just love to get, too. Imagine the morale in the IDF unit that's being widely accused of massacring civilians in Jenin, facts to the contrary notwithstanding. You feel about as appreciated as a Vietnam Marine at the end of his tour of duty-- and then a jeep rolls up with a pizza delivery box.

The symbolism is as thick as a deep-dish pizza crust. I mean, right there you've got what has become one of the most universally-loved, internationally-developed foods on the planet-- an Italian appetizer dish adopted by Americans and turned into the Great Equalizer, a shared circular entree pre-sliced into equal portions, serving everyone at the table simultaneously and democratically. It's the food of choice for up-too-late college students and Chicago restaurateurs alike. And it's portable, endlessly customizable, and can be eaten without utensils.

And now it can be delivered at the whim of anyone in the world to the front battle lines. Talk about cutting out the middleman; now the world can register its approval or disapproval of the IDF by voting with cheese.

Has the nature of war changed, or what?

By the way, be sure to read the "Messages" section of the site.

21:09 - Perspective from the Front

Tal G. in Jerusalem is a blog that doesn't tend to have a huge amount of content-- but that's okay, because there's more first-hand context from the very battle lines in a single posting there than there is in three screenfuls of your typical American blog.

Just today, for instance, the info bites come fast and furious:

James Lileks has a fine rant today. But one of his points is a criticism of Arab nations for not contributing to improve conditions in Palestinian refugee camps.

Actually, the squalidness of the refugee camps is intentionally maintained by the PA and the UN Relief Works Agency. When the PA was established in 1994 it decided not to aid the refugee camps because if their residents became too comfortable, they might abandon their dreams of returning to their grandparents' homes inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.

There is a camp called Shuafat which now falls within the boundaries of Jerusalem, but UNRWA etc. have steadfastly opposed efforts by the municipality to pave streets and install a modern sewage system.

Someone living in Shuafat found my cellphone which I had dropped, but I declined to go and collect it.

There's also this:

This just in: Arafat has backtracked on his agreement to jail Tourism-Minister-assassination-planner Ahmed Saadat and heavy-arms-and-explosives-smuggler Fuad Shubeiki in Jericho with British/American guards. Jailing them was part of the deal made with Israel for releasing Arafat from house arrest.


He asks whether the Israeli actions of late are likely to cause any kind of dent in the extremism of the more intelligent Palestinians, the ones who are willing to be rational-- or whether they'll just be driven further toward radicalism. The only positive alternative is that they'll instead be cowed by Israel's refusal to back down or be intimidated; but if they're weighing such options along with what must certainly seem to them like a glorious tactical victory for Arafat (Look-- the stupid Americans and the accursed Sharon let him go scot free, he doesn't even have to obey their outrageous demands of jailing extremists, and we have a new martyrdom cause on our side in the form of the Jenin Massacre™... Allahu akbar, man!), then it'll be a hard sell indeed.

It seems to me that if there were any "thinking Palestinians" out there who truly wanted peace, they'd be organizing demonstrations and protests against Arafat and demanding a halt to the counterproductive and abhorrent actions of their countrymen who strap on bombs and run into crowded coffee shops.

It's called an act of good faith. It can work wonders, when those who receive the message are willing to hear it. When the audience is civilized.

But, of course, when Israel commits such an act-- like, oh, say, releasing Arafat-- he may as well be laying his olive branch on a bonfire.
Wednesday, May 1, 2002
00:44 - Bluh.

There hasn't been, and won't be, much in the way of bloggage for today. We had a long and gruelling network problem to plow through today at work, and right now I really don't feel much like typing. What I really feel like doing is lying semi-comatose on my waterbed and watching whatever well-worn Simpsons comes on in fifteen minutes. And then maybe I'll fall asleep or something.
Tuesday, April 30, 2002
15:05 - Dammit.

Kris just got back from interviewing a job applicant over lunch. The guy said he had just come off a project at a FireWire solutions company; they were creating some kind of ultimate home-stereo/video system, with all the controlling and recording and management integrated and all the audio and video and other traffic traveling over FireWire. He said it was an extremely enjoyable project. You know, one of those things where you feel like you're changing the world, like you have the answer, like everything's going to be all right now.

But, he said, it got cancelled.


Because the company "got scared off by USB 2.0".

Intel's getting to be just about as petty with their Not-Invented-Here mentality as Microsoft is. They need to have their scrota eaten just about as badly.

14:56 - Seanbaby reviews Buzkashi

I was almost positive that I'd blogged this Seanbaby article before, but a cursory glance through the database tells me nay. And because I'm revisiting it over lunch and laughing so hard I'm having difficulty swallowing, I think it's only fair that I share the experience. Besides, even if I have blogged it before, it's worth doing so again. Just because.

There is one Afghani thing everyone should see before their country becomes a smoldering terrorist paste-filled crater, or at least a deeper terrorist paste-filled crater: their insane goat-slinging national sport, Buzkashi. Buzkashi was started in the time of Genghis Kahn, but unlike other sports started in the time of Genghis Kahn like Synchronized Impale the Villager, Horseback Crotch Kick, and Female Horseback Crotch Kick, Buzkashi survived relatively unchanged all the way to modern day, give or take a few million tons of anti-personnel explosives.

The first thing you need for Buzkashi, besides a warrior soul prepared for death, is the game ball or "boz." To prepare it, find a goat. Now chop off its head and most of its legs. This probably won't finish it off... Afghani goats are raised on soil composed of 80 percent land mine and require either intense persistence or voodoo to kill. So after the chopping, you need to submerge it in cold water for 24 hours. This helps toughen it up so the corpse doesn't fall apart during gameplay. And before you ask, yes, this is the exact same technique that Joseph Stalin and Hitler would have invented if they dictated the policy of sporting goods manufacturing and were goats.

Word is that Seanbaby is now writing regular articles for The Wave, the first of which I managed by dumb luck to catch while I was at the car wash a while ago. So now I'll have to go pick up copies wherever I can. Seanbaby's stuff is not to be missed.
Monday, April 29, 2002
03:20 - Oh yes, thanks for reminding me...

Hiker's post on the same Transformers article that I mentioned reminded me of something I'd intended to say but forgot.

But consider this: the Decepticons were a short-sighted race that wanted to rule the universe by controlling its energy resources. They were proud, vicious, and specialized in sneak attacks. They had no compunctions about using us miserable fleshlings as human shields. Eventually they were reduced to cowering in caves on a remote asteroid that no one really cared about. Do they remind you of anybody?

The Autobot/Decepticon war spanned millions of years without any clear victor. In its wake countless planets were devastated by giant robots bent on violence. It is a grim lesson that we should take to heart, as we embark on what could be the longest, bitterest war of all time.

Indeed. Now, what I was suddenly reminded of was that when I was heavily into Transformers, through elementary and middle school when my room's shelves were covered with neatly stood-at-attention robots with their Tech Specs strips hanging perpendicularly like filing-cabinet tabs, there was some perplexity in the general adultitude about whether the Transformers were "appropriate" for kids.

The main competition for kids' hearts and minds at the time was G.I. Joe. In what must have been a formative precursor of the rift that would forever divide the macho jocks from the sci-fi nerds in later years, the kids of my school sifted themselves either into the G.I. Joe platoon or the Transformers legion. Nevermore would the twain meet, and we regarded each other as subhuman. You know-- kids can be so cruel, and all that.

I was loud about my disapproval of G.I. Joe. As a conscientious third grader, I voiced my disgust with little hesitation-- how could my fellow kids be such monsters as to revel in war, in the killing of humans by humans? How could they justify their fascination with such barbarism?

You see, I had a moral high ground: the Transformers, you see, weren't human. They were, in fact, not of this earth-- they were a technological impossibility, what with their arbitrary changing of size and their obviously-gratuitous-even-to-a-nine-year-old divisions into five-man themed groups. It was all a marketing stunt, and even at our tender age, we knew it. And that's what we loved about it, just as the nostalgists love it now. It was a story-- it wasn't something that could actually happen.

I remember overhearing my mom discussing the Transformers with another mom, either over the phone or over coffee or something. "But aren't they supposed to be these terrible, warring things...? How are they any better than G.I. Joe in that regard?"

I knew what the difference was. Maybe I couldn't have put it into words at the time, but I could tell how it all worked. I knew why I liked what I did and didn't like what I didn't.

The lesson Hiker suggests we learn from the Transformers is a cautionary one, while the G.I. Joe lesson that has congealed over the years is a threat. The Transformers teach by metaphor, G.I. Joe teaches by example. But while G.I. Joe is a paean to American might in arms, inexorable and unstoppable and not caring who or what gets in the way-- the Transformers' lesson is more subtle, more European: Don't throw away the good things we have in pursuit of the goal. But then, the Autobots' victory was always more in doubt with every passing set of end credits.

20:49 - Hey, it was this or Cabbage Patch Kids...

There are others who tend to focus on this topic a bit more than I do, and with good reason-- I know I can't hold a candle to their all-encompassing grasp of the subject. My life doesn't intersect with the Transformers to anywhere near the degree that Hiker's does. But you know... it was an awfully big part of my life back in fourth grade, and the fact that I don't seem to be taking part in this new wave of nostalgia owes more to the fact that I simply don't like to collect stuff than to any disdain for it.

I'm perfectly happy to stand on the sidelines and smile as this phenomenon rolls by. And I'll certainly eat up any articles like this one that cover it.

Until relatively recently, Peter Cullen didn't know people like Weiner existed.

But now the veteran voice-over actor, who supplied the voice of heroic Optimus Prime in "The Transformers" cartoon, has met hundreds of admirers and attended a fan convention.

Despite the program's low-production values and cynical marketing purpose (even fans acknowledge it's something of a glorified toy commercial) Cullen said he and other actors took pride in making the stories wholesome.

Prime, who transformed into a big-rig truck, led the good-guy Autobot robots in war against the resource-depleting Decepticons, led by the sinister Megatron, who changed into a massive silver handgun.

"I wanted Optimus Prime to be strong and just and fair," said Cullen, who now plays Eeyore in Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" cartoons. "I saw him like John Wayne, and did a little of that voice. ... I wanted him to be a super-hero, not stupid or off-the-wall. He never yelled or lost his temper. I think the kids appreciated that."

Hmm. Maybe this is why I grew up liking stories like Preacher.

Oh, and Hollings and the Content Faction, take note:

Meanwhile, bootleg copies of all 98 original cartoon episodes proliferated for years on the Internet, the complete set selling for $70 to $90. Now Rhino Home Video is releasing the program's first 16-episode season on DVD, which retails for about $60. Other seasons will follow.

A day before its April 23 debut, advance sales of that 17-year-old cartoon show ranked No. 7 on the Amazon.com list of best-selling DVDs.

Transformer fans even posted praise for the discs weeks in advance, rejoicing that they no longer had to pirate the episodes.

"No more downloading, encoding and video CD burning for me!" one fan wrote on the Amazon review section. "I want the real thing!"

Got that?

19:42 - Content vs. Technology

The battle lines have been drawn, says Mike Godwin. The Content Faction (Disney, Time-Warner, the record companies) and the Tech Faction (Apple, HP, the hardware and software makers) have thrown down their gauntlets and are assuming the sumo stance.

One way to understand the conflict between the Content Faction and the Tech Faction is to look at how they describe their customers. For the content industries, they’re "consumers." By contrast, the information technology companies talk about "users."

If you see people as consumers, you control access to what you offer, and you do everything you can to prevent theft, for the same reason supermarkets have cameras by the door and bookstores have electronic theft detectors. Allowing people to take stuff for free is inconsistent with your business model.

But if you see people as users, you want to give them more features and power at cheaper prices. The impulse to empower users was at the heart of the microcomputer revolution: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak wanted to put computing power into ordinary people’s hands, and that’s why they founded Apple Computer. If this is your approach -- enabling people to do new things -- it’s hard to adjust to the idea of building in limitations.

Yeah, exactly. And I should note that software can be written completely independently of any company-- it's a product that requires no overhead for production, so it can be created by a kid in his bedroom. It's more democratic even than garage-band music; you don't even need to cut an album. You can become famous for a breakthrough idea in software, purely by creating it. There's nothing more to it-- no distribution, no having to have connections, book gigs, coattail anyone, bribe anyone, anything. Software is still changing so fast-- fueled by hardware and infrastructure that's still changing and improving faster than any other technology at any other time in history-- that there are all kinds of ideas out there just waiting to be had. The software "industry" is still fundamentally an artificial layer pasted on top of a free continuum of thought that has no need as yet for such barriers and channels. It will one day, but not yet.

And that's why barriers on capability are such anathema to tech people. All they're doing is trying to give people superpowers-- and it's sometyhing they are able to do purely through thought and ingenuity. Who's going to avoid having or acting on a brilliant idea because of the potential legal details of what might eventually be done with it? Ideas don't work that way. The motto of software creation is "Because it can be done"; the motto of content creation is "Because it makes business sense".

The Content Faction may be right that what people really want is compelling content over broadband. It may even be the case that, if they were asked, most people would be willing to trade the open, robust, relatively simple tools they now have for a more constrained digital world in which they have more content choices. But for now, nobody’s asking ordinary people what they want.

Well, I'll tell you what I want. I want superpowers. So get your filthy laws off my computer, Hollings.
Sunday, April 28, 2002
19:59 - Music for Context


Several years ago, when I was working part-time as an usher for the performances by various groups at Beckman Auditorium at Caltech, I ushed a show by San Jose Taiko. These guys are the premier Japanese Taiko troupe in the country, from what I can gather, and their show has only gotten better.

I saw them again today. One thing that I couldn't help but notice is how much fun the performers are obviously having. They time-keeping shouts they give to each other aren't just clinical cue markers; they're whoops of exhilaration. And I don't blame them a bit. After all, I mean-- can you imagine a performance art that's more fun than banging on drums in costume, moving in sync with eight or ten other people, the spotlights flashing off your sticks, your arms slashing off in various diagonals like a primal version of an N'Sync dance act? It's probably one of the most tiring things you can do on stage (well, that arts patrons will watch), but one of the most energizing ever.

It makes me think-- Taiko is a great example of a musical form that shares a lot of fundamental structural elements with Western music. I heard on NPR a little while ago from a Japanese jazz-group member that before Western influence came along, Japanese music didn't really have any concept of harmony; music was mostly just ascetic, simple melodies on a single instrument. Very Shinto. They weren't using the Dorian scale or anything weird that would be totally incompatible with Western music, preventing "fusion" stuff or anything. But when Western music came along, the Japanese found out with a shock the possibilities that are opened up just by allowing a concept like harmony-- the Beethoven, Mozart, and so on of the day-- and the result is that today, if you want to find the biggest source of Western-style pop music, all you have to do is look at the anime industry.

Heading off to see The Scorpion King. Back later.

15:45 - We got lucky this time...

...But it seems it's only a matter of time.

Let the bloody IDF do its job.

04:05 - And there's also this.

William Quick has a great little essay on the "honor-shame" nature of Islamic countries, and why they act the way they do toward Israel and the US.

Quick gist: It's because a) Everybody else is more successful than they are, even though b) God tells them that they're supposed to be the winners. And of course it's beyond question that God could be wrong.

Therefore, if anybody but them is winning, it must be because they're enemies of God and must be destroyed.

Quick's conclusion is exactly the same as Steven den Beste's was a while ago:

Honor-shame cultures are culturally incapable of renouncing war unless one of two things happens: Either every other state or culture submits to them ("Islam" means "submission"), or they are defeated so decisively the culture itself is destroyed.

Imperial Japan was an honor-shame culture - and history records how that turned out.

Yes. Now, nobody will win any Pulitzers by advocating cultural genocide. But you know, Japan's turned out pretty well in the long run, wouldn't you say?

Israel has more innovative networking-equipment companies than anybody outside Silicon Valley. Japan has raised consumerism to an art form. And you know, one may decry the evils of consumerism and reliance on technology and so on. But I'll take them any day against there being a large amorphous force in the world that wants my country and everything it stands for and every country and culture like it to die.

For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned around.
"It'll have to go," the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.

We can't seal off the Islamic world in an envelope of Slo-time, like they did with the planet Krikkit. We may just have to do the next best thing.

And anybody who disputes the statement that this is about self-defense hasn't been to lower Manhattan recently.
Saturday, April 27, 2002
03:53 - Oh, now that's charming.

So the Saudis on their way to visit Bush in Texas requested that no wimmin' be allowed to direct their flights.

Honestly, when they're getting this petty, and this brash-- they know as well as we do that this is a ridiculous, invasive, insensitive thing to ask of us-- it's as though they're doing it just to spite us. It's just swagger. One gets the impression that they think they're invincible, that we woudn't dare touch them. They have the infidels' oil. They walk on water.

And we, meanwhile, wring our hands over bombing during Ramadan and making sure the al Qaeda prisoners get ethnically appropriate meals.

Is it or is it not time to start acting a little bit less like such pussies? Can you imagine what kind of stuff we could be accomplishing right now if we didn't spend all our time being flustered over political correctness that even our opponents can't fathom appreciating?

But at least there's some small consolation:

As for Abdullah's departure from Texas, Pallone said no FAA facilities changed staffing and that in fact a female air traffic controller in Fort Worth directed the prince's flight.

So there.
Friday, April 26, 2002
13:43 - Canadian Snipers

I'd heard that the Canadian military had been traditionally known in particular for its proficiency with artillery. Apparently, Canadian artillerymen were always regarded as the ones you went to if you wanted something far away to die.

Well, now it seems that Canadian snipers are what are turning heads-- a similar sort of thing, but an interesting shift if it means anything.

"Their professionalism was amazing," Lieut. Overbaugh said. "The Canadians were a very large asset to the mission. I would have loved to have 12 Canadian sniper teams out there. I'd have no problems fighting alongside of them again."

He said the Canadian snipers had equipment far superior to theirs. Their rifles had longer range than the U.S. weapons and better high-tech sights. Lieut. Overbaugh said if another mission comes up, he will request the Canadian sniper teams be sent with his unit.

That's cool. But I couldn't help smiling at this paragraph:

Crawling up into a good position, they set up their .50-calibre rifle -- the MacMillan Tac-50, a weapon the corporal compares to having superhuman power in your hands. "Firing it feels like someone slashing you on the back of your hockey helmet with a hockey stick."

04:00 - Stupid Error Messages


The Interface Hall of Shame is an outstanding site for anybody who values good user-interface design style and ideals. This page, showcasing shameful Error Messages, is one of the most revealing ones in the whole site. But don't forget to check out the rest of the site too; at the very least, it's good for a laugh.
Thursday, April 25, 2002
19:25 - Blog Clusters (Blusters?)

It would seem that Steven den Beste has just put up his Atlas of the Blogosphere-- a model that's at least, if not fully accurate or useful for navigation, conceptually pretty realistic. His point is that blogs have formed into clusters or knots based on common interests and common themes, and from what I've seen I'd say it's pretty much true.

He also talks about how blogs have grown out of Usenet; I'd say that this is about half the story. For a long time now, Usenet has been in decline-- especially in usefulness-- from its one-time height of all-inclusive freedom. Nowadays most groups are 90% spam, and the only way I've been able to get any good out of Usenet lately is with private little newsgroup trees hosted on private, password-protected, spam-filtered servers. Usenet has turned third-world on us; the only remnant of the Old Days now is the gated communities, the heavily guarded compounds dedicated to focused interests. Time was that each university and company had its own hierarchy of newsgroups, which didn't get much traffic compared the alt. groups; now, though, one hardly dares venture out of the private servers.

But there was a place for people to go: Web discussion boards. UltimateBB and VBulletin and Ikonboard and their ilk have provided a medium that's a lot more attractive especially to the young newcomers to the Internet-- those who may well not even be aware that Usenet exists. Columns at pro news sites have discussion boards. Static websites have discussion boards. Blogs have discussion boards. While this medium has certain advantages over Usenet ("avatar" images, a more visible and permanent topic-threading structure, the ability to edit and delete posts, and much tighter integration into websites whose content supports them), it obviously also has some major drawbacks. For one, Web servers aren't terribly well suited to this kind of thing. You have to have a database back-end of some type, you have to render HTML, you have to spew out large-content pages over limited amounts of bandwidth, and if people start role-playing, it chews up your CPU something fierce. Usenet was a beautiful example of the old military Internet, with its distributed, fail-safe network structure and its constant stream of update chatter which guaranteed widespread availability for only a small cost in latency. Now, we have extreme centralization and bandwidth-intensiveness-- which is what the Net seems to be gravitating towards. It's all about content and branding now, not performance and reliability. And for today's Web generation, that's all okay.

Blogs are the next step beyond discussion boards. They leverage discussion boards in order to promote community interaction, but the structure is all quite different-- there's now a "Star of the Show", an emcee who provides all the "real" content; the discussion boards are only there as a courtesy and an afterthought. Some blogs put comments inline and give them top billing. Some provide access to the boards through links off the posts. Some (like myself) don't have discussion boards at all. Cross-blog discussion from author to author, interestingly, seems to take place mostly in good ol' direct e-mail, rather than in the discussion forums anyway. So the blog model is a good deal less democratic and more of a potential power trip for the blog owner; but the good news is, starting one's own blog is pretty dang easy.

I had for a while intended to put up my own hierarchy of blog types, based on my own perfunctory observations-- from what I could tell, there were four basic types:
  1. The "daily journal" style blog. One post per day, in editorial-column style, with a good neatly-tied-up structure and a point to be made. You know who I'm talking about here.
  2. The link blog. Mostly links to articles, some commentary, but the real content is the links. Lots of 'em.
  3. The essay blog. Most posts are big, long, and thoughtful.
  4. The LiveJournal. I've found these mostly to be what (as den Beste notes) calls itself the A/N crowd-- mostly kids posting injokes, dishing with their friends, posting quiz-meme result graphics, and banging out stream-of-consciousness gibberish loudly trying to prove how weird they are.

I'm not sure where I fit in this-- somewhere between 2 and 4, with a little of each. Den Beste seems to have pegged me as exemplary of a postulated "Mac-lovers' Cluster", which I suppose shouldn't surprise me-- though it was by no means my intention when I first started this thing. (I figured I would spend most of my time talking about Tolkien, cars, motorcycles, and movies.) But I guess there's a lesson in that; blogs grow in the telling, as it were, and can take on a life of their own regardless of the author's intent.

What is it about blogs that has made them suddenly the medium of choice for airing one's views? I think it's that there is a major, fundamental difference between two kinds of people who post on the Net: those who have a need to dominate a forum, and those who are content merely to contribute to it. I'm not implying that there's anything wrong with this-- just that I'm sure it's true. Usenet and web-boards both provided the ability for one or two people to rise to the top of the lists and become known as THE poster, the Big Cheese of the forum. They would have single-digit member numbers and a post-frequency tag like "Honor Charter Big Kahuna Member" (as opposed to everybody else's "N00b Whiny Peon Junior Member"). The whole structure of the system would revolve around them-- but not de jure, just de facto.

Hence blogs: a way for opinionated people like me to guarantee their supremacy at the peak of the discussions, the control over the whole shebang. There's no way for someone in the forums to hijack it and take over. And that lets the blog owner do all kinds of fun stuff, which can be good or bad.

In fact, now that I think about it, it all reminds me rather uncomfortably of that classic Life of Brian scene with all the raving nutters standing on pedestals preaching about Armageddon and trying to attract crowds of onlookers like barkers at a midway. (In fact, I feel not unlike Brian in that scene: "Uhh... don't judge other people, or else you might get judged too!" "Who, me? Oh, thank you very much!") I'm also reminded of the loonies in the plaza up at Berkeley, like Paul of the Pillar-- I heard tales of him from my friends who went off to college a couple of years before I did, back in the early 90s; Paul had a sign and a pillar, and he would stand on it and yell, or smoke, or just stand there looking serene. It didn't matter to him, as long as people knew he was there: he was Paul of the Pillar. Dot com.

As for cross-linking-- I have no idea who links to me. I've never checked the logs. I'm totally in the dark as to how many people read this thing, and frankly I kinda like it that way. (Though I must admit it's sort of unnerving when I get e-mails from old high-school friends responding to some recent inflammatory post as though to imply that he had been reading it all along and I only just now went over the line, or when I get mail out of the blue from some "A-list" blogger who found his or her way here God only knows how.) I also don't know, therefore, how many people find other sites through the links on this page; but considering how much back-tracing exploration that emerges, startled, here, can only be happening as a result of people poring over referrer logs, I guess I can infer that traffic must be heavier than I'd thought.

I can also infer that the clusters den Beste talks about, while they're definitely a good illustration of how things tend to be structured, are extremely porous and malleable. And that's one thing about the blog world that I think is pretty cool.
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
02:04 - The Sarge's History Lessons

Go check out Sgt. Stryker's last couple of days' worth of posts. He's got a flip historical perspective on the past couple of thousand years in the Holy Land that's probably about as accurate as anything we've heard out of Arab News or CNN lately.

And it's funny. And it's informative. I certainly know more than I did ten minutes ago. Go take a look through his "Yep, I'm Gonna Nitpick" and "I'm an Infidel, You're an Infidel" posts.

00:35 - A stray scrap of thought...

In heated discussions over the past few days, I've run across the claim many times that religion is inherently valuable in that it "promotes good morals and ethics". Well, in response to that, I say this:

If the only thing preventing you from lying, cheating, stealing, raping, and killing is the fear of going to Hell-- rather than any ability to discern consciously that these things are wrong in and of themselves-- then you're not the kind of person I can trust not to do any of those things.

In other words, if you need religion to tell you that these things are wrong, then you have my pity-- but you can't automatically expect me to need it too.

When it comes to providing incentive to do or not do something, I will always prefer reason rather than fear as the motivator.

20:22 - Skippy's List

I've been instructed by Lance to "spread this meme":


That is, things against which SPC Schwarz, the site's owner, has been specifically instructed not to do. In most cases, after doing them.

Just... go look. I'm not even going to try to quote any of it.

It doesn't appear to have been updated since late September, at least according to the note at the bottom-- but it's still worth a long, painful laugh.

15:40 - Here, Penny Arcade-- take yourself a whack


The first thing I saw this morning was an ICQ message of Marcus predicting my imminent blogging of this Penny Arcade strip. Yeah, I was powerless to resist. Who am I to introduce instability into the timeline?

By the way, though Steven den Beste cautioned me the other day against declaring the Xbox out-for-the-count just yet (bearing in mind the iterative improvements over many years that have been part of every other Microsoft product, from Windows to WinCE to IE to Office, supported until it's viable by pure marketing clout and money), I have a counterargument that I forgot to mention in e-mail. And that's that Microsoft's previous iterative development efforts have all been software-- high-margin stuff they could make a profit on even if they only sold a measly few copies. This time, it's hardware... and sold-at-a-loss hardware at that. It's going to cut them a lot deeper if they plan to subsidize Xbox sales (with the new European price cut, they're now making what... -50% margins?) than it ever did to give away Windows in shady bundling deals. Their big gamble is that people will buy enough Xbox games to offset the hardware costs via the licensing deals; but if people rush out and buy Xboxes and then suddenly find that whoops! there aren't any games! ... well, even Microsoft won't be able to sustain that for very long.

Especially if even gamers ridicule it. After all, IE caught on even in its sucky early days because it was bundled with Windows. WinCE is winning on its shiny colors and the Maglite-like glow of the iPaq screen. And Office won because it was ubiquitous (nice little feedback-loop thing there). Not so the case here, where gamers (who are fickle) will rally around the PS2 and Gamecube if they've determined that the Xbox is a waste of money. The competition is strong and has widespread brand loyalty and all kinds of market advantages. That's never been the case before.

So all I'm saying is that the dynamic is going to be different here, because the Xbox is such a clear market loser and a loss leader. That's a bad combination, even for Microsoft.

12:08 - Look out, Itchy! He's Irish!

Have you noticed that some racial stereotypes seem to be inextricably with us and are widely regarded as "okay", even by their targets?

I call to witness the Irish stereotype. It just doesn't fit with the stereotypes we consider "bad" today-- the Irish are white, after all. When I was a little kid, I knew what "Black" was, and I knew what "Mexican" was. But I didn't know what "Irish" was, nor "Jewish". As far as I could tell, they were just more flavors of Miscellaneous.

The Irish stereotype survived well into this century, largely as the Irish Cop in WB cartoons and Broadway musicals. Go take a look at Cap'n Wacky's Unfortunate St. Patrick's Day Cards from earlier this century to see what it used to be like. But today, perhaps because immigration from Ireland is no longer a "problem", all we have left from it is the Lucky Charms leprechaun mascot, and self-conscious jocularity like what The Simpsons does on a regular basis. "Whacking Day was invented as an excuse to beat up the Irish!" "Oy, 'tis true! Oy took many a lump. But 'twas all in good fun!"

And the mockery is all in good fun, too, it seems. Somehow we've moved beyond that particular stereotype making fun of people, and instead it makes fun of itself. All the stereotype is targeting now is the Irish stereotype.

The same thing has happened, to a lesser extent, with Italians. We still have the Mafia-fascination that makes The Sopranos a hit, and Hollywood knows they'll never flop with a mob movie as long as they throw in Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal or something. (Yeah, yeah, I liked Analyze This.) There's still some general slicked-back pointedness about Italians as portrayed in the media, something of the old-style stereotyping that hasn't yet moved on to the recursive "meta-stereotyping" style. But I suppose time will bring that about just as it did with the Irish.

But what about blacks? Hell, we've come a long way. We've got stereotypes now, but they're squarely in the latter category-- almost over-the-top in that direction, as a matter of fact. The Black stereotype is such an overcompensation for past wrongs that it's a very flattering one. The contrast is astonishing. It's been decades since we've seen the "doan' hurt me, massah" kind of thing we can see in Jerry on the Job, an early-part-of-the-century daily strip thoughtfully archived for posterity by (who else?) Lileks. No, what we have now is sort of a Shaft/Samuel L. Jackson montage-- a self-assured, swaggering, pimpin' 70s sex machine. It's the Chef of South Park. It's the Green Lantern of Justice League. It's a stereotype that's about the diametric opposite of what it once was, and so it's even beyond being a parody of itself. It's a creation of the media. It's a product of our collective guilt. It's affirmative action for stereotypes.

This has happened because the lot of blacks in America has been particularly grievous, and so it's our immediate first choice when we decide we must do something about racial prejudice. But it seems to me that the "melting pot" is still working; multiculturalism is a fad, and miscegenation continues as our intra-cultural borders dissolve. One day we'll have a lot more meta-stereotypes like the current Irish, Scottish, and Australian ones that we toss about with such abandon today-- and a lot fewer of the direct ones that actually offend people.

11:19 - Anthems (uh, Antha?)

The latest in a series of observations by Glenn Reynolds. The last line of his commentary (while I wouldn't go so far as to say no, it's not too harsh) certainly twangs a sympathetic chord on my nerves.


It gets uglier. In the past when relations between the "two solitudes" have been tense, as happens from time to time, there are periodic episodes of hockey fans in English cities booing the French verses of "O Canada." There was one game in particular a few years ago, in Calgary I think, where some Canadiens players refused to go back out on the ice after. So Canadians boo their own national anthem too, though I'm not sure that excuses the Detroit fans I've been to a fair number of U.S.-Canada sporting events (baseball and hockey, on both sides of the border) over the years and can't remember it ever having happened, but I suspect it isn't that uncommon. Given that Detroit has a closer intimacy with Canada than any other American city (well, Buffalo), I suspect that there aren't any real hard feelings though. Imagine if individual cities in the U.S. had their own "civic anthems" that played before games. I suspect there would be plenty of booing then and nobody would think twice about; would that really be any better than doing it to another country, though?

I was brought up to believe that booing was generally rude. Of course, we didn't go to many hockey games, either.

UPDATE: Reader Tom Milway writes:

I'm in Montreal right now, and I am a huge hockey fan. Last night at the Molson Centre more than a few idiots booed the Star Spangled Banner. The same thing happened Sunday night in Vancouver, the same night that the Pistons fans booed O Canada. Classless behaviour in cities that benefit extraordinarily from American patronage.

Hmm. You think that sports fans are just idiots? No, that would be too harsh.

Oh yeah, and scroll down through the past several days to see plenty of bizarre observations of hockey-arena behavior along these lines.

Like this one:


I recently went to a Blackhawks game and some jerk behind us was constantly yelling "DETROIT SUCKS!"

Except the other team was Pittsburgh.

Don't think a lot of thought goes into this ...

I tell you what, my Canadian friends: Don't judge us by our hockey fans, and we won't judge you by yours. :)

Oh... and you know, I wrote this before I went over to USS Clueless and saw that den Beste had written almost exactly the same thing. I swear. Don't hurt me.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
00:59 - The Season Begins

Today I rode the ZX-11 in for the first time this year. Now that Daylight Savings Time is here, and it's light enough in the evenings for me not to have to ride in the dark, it's time to come to work sheathed in leather once again and wipe the bugs off my visor every few days.

I'll probably be doing this two or three times a week. Well, maybe not that often; it does take up a fair amount of time before and afterwards, and it's a pain to try to walk anywhere in motorcycling boots for lunch. No, driving is still going to be the staple mode of transportation.

But still...

21:24 - Gateway's introduces... a TiBook


Kris and I can't find any consistent dimensions or specifications on these pages, but one thing's for sure: this is one big laptop.

Whether the 15.7" (in the "Product Tour" pop-up window) or the 15" (on the main page) figure for the screen is correct, it's a standard 4:3 screen, so it's massive. And judging by the thickness of the machine on the side views, it's got to be at least 1.5" thick-- maybe even 2". Talk about the Mother of All Laptops.

But what gets us is the motherboard layout. Go to the "Product Tour" and run your mouse around the various sides. Look-- every single side has ports and slots and controls. PCMCIA, optical drive, audio plugs, and FireWire are on the left; USB and "multimedia drive" are on the right; audio controls are on the front; and the back has video, network, parallel and serial ports. Plug everything in and this machine would look like a big cilia-encased paramecium.

That's for the bigger model, the 600L. Now look at the smaller one, the 450L. This one has ports and bays all over the place too-- but in all different places. It's a totally different motherboard layout. No wonder Gateway is hemorrhaging money, if they can't streamline their designs any better than this.

As if I needed to point this out: the Apple laptops cluster all their ports together in one place. The TiBook has all the ports in the back, the slot-loading optical drive in the front, and the PCMCIA slot on the left. The iBook has the drive bay and power on the right and everything else on the left. It may be a nightmare to put back together, but it's certainly a lot neater.

And I'm still not sure what the point is of all the PC makers insisting on having both a DVD drive and a CD-RW, or a DVD-RW and a CD-ROM, or just two optical drives of any kind. "Well, it's so you can rip... from one to another... easi..ly. Or something..."

Hey, good luck to 'em. The way things are looking, they're going to need it.

21:12 - So Episode I was just a warm-up?

The new Time cover story is on Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

It's an oddly astute and self-conscious article, smirking inwardly about how Time itself had joined the hype machine for Episode I before it hit theaters; indeed, considering that the magazine is now plumping for the second episode of the New Series with just as much vigor and an insistence that they were "just kidding" about the first one ("This time for sure!"), and considering Time's cover back in January of the new iMac that got mistakenly released before Jobs even unveiled the machine-- well, one might be forgiven for imagining that running ads disguised as journalism is all it does these days.

Well, it certainly makes Episode II sound like it has possibilities. I'm not going to say I'm really looking forward to it; it seems there's a scene where "Anakin and Obi-Wan drag-race the changeling Zam Wessel across Coruscant's wonderfully varied urban nightscape" (Chekov! Say nuclearr wessels!), and Jar Jar and Watto are back for encores, though who asked for them I'll never be able to guess. (Yeah, yeah, Lucas is a Slave to his Vision-- he listens to no man's plot criticism and no fan's derision! Hey, if that's true, how come the whole first movie was written around a bloody merchandising stunt-- a made-for-video-game racing scene replete with announcers straight out of ESPN-4-KiDz? "Whoah, now there's some Tusken Raiders on the course! Better watch out for those!" "AAOOOOOUUWWW! That's gotta hurt!")

Reportedly, this one's going after the Titanic audience with a tender love story. Oh, good. Yeah, that's the way to recapture the spirit of the first three movies. Oh, and Yoda is the real "action hero" of this movie, too. Cripes.

I don't know... I'll watch it, but I'll tell you where my hopes are not, and that is up.

15:49 - Do they all do this?

I must say, this does kick up my respect for Bush a notch.

Under the watchful eyes of Secret Service experts, according to his spokesman, Mr Bush backed a 2002 Chevrolet Camaro down a practice track and spun 180 degrees at 65 kmh.

The car continued front-end-first in the same direction - an evasive manoeuvre known as the 'J turn' that Secret Service drivers might make if they came under attack.

Over lunch, we couldn't resist tossing back and forth images of Bush's motorcade barreling down a city block-- and inside the Presidential car, all the windows are tinted and rolled up except for the driver's... and Bush is driving, with his arm hanging out the window.

He snatches an intercom mike from the Secret Service guy (hmm, can't say "SS", can I?) and yells into it, "C'mon, see if you can keep up! Yeee-haaa!" And he guns it. (You gotta know the Presidential limo must have God's own engine in it.) And he goes rocketing off out in front of the motorcycles, down the boulevard, running red lights, and the Secret Service guys are pressed back into their seats and holding on for dear life. "Uh.... Mr. President..."
Monday, April 22, 2002
23:58 - Hey, everybody! Let's all take turns nailing the coffin shut!

Look, look! Seamus Blackley, the driving force behind the Xbox (as I discussed last week), now has one more high-profile, high-tech failure to add to his illustrious résumé.

The co-creator of the Xbox has resigned days after Microsoft conceded the unit was struggling internationally and would miss its initial sales targets.

Seamus Blackley, a physicist by training who also worked in Hollywood before joining Microsoft (MSFT), plans to start a new venture, the details of which he will begin discussing in the next few weeks, said his spokeswoman, Susan Lusty.

News of Blackley's departure comes just days after Microsoft said it would miss its fiscal year-end sales target for the Xbox by as much as 40 percent, a shortfall it blamed on weak international sales. Those weak sales led to price cuts in Europe and Australia last week.

The console has also struggled in Japan, selling just over 190,000 units in its first six weeks there, according to Japanese game magazine publisher Enterbrain. By comparison, the console sold nearly 1.5 million units in its first six weeks in the United States last year.
Pobrissimo. My tears doth stream.

Serves you $%#$% well right, you egotistical little sycophant.

This is possibly the best outcome I could ever have imagined. Rest in peace, Xbox, and may you be ridiculed in memory. And Seamus, may the shame of being behind the Xbox haunt your career for the rest of your life. May you be the John DeLorean of technology.

I'm going to sleep soundly and happily tonight.

13:32 - Prejudice and Survival

"The Infinite Mind" on NPR last night was about prejudice-- its roots in human behavior and how it works in today's world where "tolerance" is a very new concept.

I didn't hear most of the show, which from the website sounds like something funded by CAIR in order to avert anti-Muslim violence. But the opening essay, by Dr. Fred Goodwin, I did hear-- and it was really a fun listen. One of those flippant, full-of-perspective angles on historical and evolutionary behavior changes that really makes you feel like there are people in this world who "get it". Very refreshing after spending all evening fuming about the religious turd with the vendetta against Macs.

Go visit the page and grab the RealAudio stream.
Sunday, April 21, 2002
20:20 - S0Xx0rz


I've said it before: there are few joys to compare with that of putting on brand-new socks.

Ever since junior high, I've worn the same kind of socks: those Crew-length ones you get at JCPenney. These socks have been continuously available for at least fifteen years, and I like them purely because the seams are on top of the toes, not right against your toe-tips. I hate that kind of seam. The JCPenney socks are the only ones that have it the way I like it. They're tube socks, so they gradually shape themselves to your feet; the seam says which side is the top, but after two or three wearings, the left and right tribes of socks have irretrievably separated into their warring factions, never again to be reintegrated into the Pure Sock Society-- forever separate but equal.

They haven't remained unchanged, though. These socks have always come in packages of six pairs; way back when, all six pairs had a different-colored stripe around the top. (A previous model had two stripes or even three-- how very 80s, now that I think about it.) I'd get a package of socks, and it would have a red pair, a navy pair, a dark brown pair, an aquamarine pair, a blue pair, and a yellow pair.

I think. It's been a long time. See, about six years ago, right about when I went off to college, they reduced the number of colors. A package of six pairs now had only three colors: red, navy, and brown. There were two pairs of each. This wasa major blow to me. Beforehand, it was easy: I had a single pair of each color; getting ready for school in the morning, I had only to find two socks with the same color stripe and I was on the road to sock-town. (Never mind that I usually had two packages' worth of socks, so there were actually potentially two of each side of each color.)

But now, the susceptibility to drawing socks of the same side and the same color was that much worse. In a sock population of two packages, there were now four pairs of each color-- meaning that I could sit there in the morning pulling socks out of the clean-clothes basket for minutes on end until I'd found five of the same color; only then would I be guaranteed to have a matched pair.

(To say nothing of the fact that I usually could tell which two socks happened to go together; they have the same "look" about them. So it often took even longer to get them sorted out into their proper registered couples.)

Well, now we seem to have reached a major cosmic change: the JCPenney Crew Socks, while seemingly unchanged in construction from their longtime configuration, now no longer have the colored stripe at all. They're just white. Pure, boring white. Not 80s-zany or 90s-neat; just... naughties-white.

At first I was furious. How dare they! I'd known this day would probably come-- the socks with the colored stripes were getting stuck further and further into the corners of the section in JCPenney, and the plain-white ones were encroaching on their territory. But I was determined to hang on. Well, the last time I'd been in there was about a year ago... and today, as it came time to refresh my sock supply, the conquest was complete.

I mourn.

But there arises new hope. See, now that there is no color to match, there is no need to paw through as many socks to find a matching pair. No more Balkanization of sock society. Granted, I now have to fish out thirteen socks from the basket before I can be sure I have a pair-- but it's from a much bigger, much less restrictive source. All socks are now fair game.

Could this be the dawning of a bright new era? As I take the first blinking steps into the glaring light, it's hard for me to tell. But I'm willing to see what's beyond, to explore the possibilities with a glad and open mind.

I told you-- I like putting on new socks.

19:56 - Hey, Adil's back...

The last few days have seen a lot of activity over at MuslimPundit.com, and it's all really good stuff: eyewitness accounts of what's going on in Jenin, historical perspective on Israel's various conflicts and their transformations in the public mind, links to new worth-reading blogs, and (as always) a whole lot of good reassurance that not all Muslims are insane.

19:52 - Al


The things I wake up with stuck in my brain in the wee hours...
Saturday, April 20, 2002
02:50 - God, I'm dense.

Just saw The Sixth Sense tonight.

I guess I just have certain periods of extreme denseness that come upon me without warning-- and tonight I suppose conditions were perfect for my density to pass critical. After spending all day driving to Fremont and back, to In-N-Out and back, then to In-N-Out again (to give them a piece of my mind for forgetting to put the goddamed pickles on my burger for the third consecutive time and see if maybe they could sell me a whole jar of their pickles so I could keep it in the fridge to use whenever I get burgers that they forget to put pickles on-- and no, they couldn't) and back, and then to the video store to get the movie and to look in vain for The Game which they didn't seem to have any copies of, and then to the store to get more lemon juice after finding that Lance had thrown out my lemon-juice-and-cherry-syrup-and-club-soda drink that I'd put in the fridge for the duration of the ten-minute trip to the video store... yeah. I wasn't at my sharpest.

So when the Big Cool Secret Twist in The Sixth Sense comes, about three minutes before the end of the film, where the whole audience is supposed to sit there gape-mouthed and then smack their foreheads and go Aaaahh! Durr! I'm so STUPID! Of COURSE! ... I just sat squinting at the screen and wondering why it was ending so confusingly.

I didn't "get it" until Zjonni explicitly explained it to me over the credits.

And then on the DVD bonus features, they had whole commentary bits on how the directors put in all the little clues and things for you to follow, and all the places where they thought the gag was so obvious that they were sure the whole audience would immediately pick up on it and the whole rest of the movie would be given away. They seemed almost embarrassed over how easy they thought it was to "get it" even before the movie was half over.

God, I feel like such an idiot.
Friday, April 19, 2002
17:55 - But... but... we were just kidding! Yeah!


Carney said the popular youth clothing maker had believed the shirts might appeal to Asian-American consumers, and was surprised by the hostile reception they received.

"The thought was that everyone would love them, especially the Asian community. We thought they were cheeky, irreverent and funny and everyone would love them. But that has not been the case."

This, boys and girls, is why most companies use focus groups. And don't ignore what they say.

15:57 - Picard to Opps, come in please...


"Oops"-- you know, the thing you say when you drop something or break something or accidentally forward spam to somebody in your address book-- is spelled "Oops", not "Opps"!

What is so difficult to understand? Double consonants do not mean a longer VOWEL sound. "Opps" rhymes with "cops". "Oops" rhymes with "loops"-- c'mon, pick up that box of Froot Loops that I know is on your table and peer real careful-like at the words and sound them out. I swear, I've seen people write to me saying things like "Opppppppps" when what they really mean is "Ooooooops". How can this be possible? What goes through these people's minds?

It's like that show "Ahhhhh! Real Monsters". You know, I'm sure you meant "Aaaaaah!"... because "Ahhhhh" is a sigh of pleasure.

Though that does lend an interesting sense to that title.

15:26 - Haw!


Nice commentary on the times. Very well done.

You know, this is the tone that comic strips about the Internet took back in about 1995, when only a few people in the audience would have any idea what it they were talking about-- but those people were reduced to hysterics. For Doonesbury to mention "hard drives" or for Dilbert to dig at propeller-beanie-wearing bearded UNIX gurus was the height of hilarity. When User Friendly debuted, we thought the Apocalypse was nigh; when The Simpsons tackled topics like Homer starting up an Internet company that didn't really seem to do anything (but got bought out by Bill Gates anyway), or even the stumbling earlier attempts (that felt like those clueless 1995 comics all over again) where Snake steals money from people's bank accounts by putting floppy disks into their iMacs and then running away saying "Yoink dot adios, backslash losers!"-- it was clear that the mainstream had its new lexicon.

Now we've got blogs to make fun of, and most of the world doesn't know what they are. Prior to about December 15, I didn't know what they were either-- I'd never heard the term before. But then Lileks mentioned a few blogs that he read regularly, I checked them out-- and within a week I was blogging myself, posting like six times a day. Then at least three friends started blogging within the next two weeks. And now, four months later, the word "blog" is on the verge of reaching the print comics pages of hometown newspapers.

The print and mainstream media have approached blogging like wolves cornering a porcupine. They know that blogs are a potential threat, but they have no idea how to go about addressing that threat-- so some ridicule bloggers, some vilify them, some poke gentle fun, and some few actually run guest columns by bloggers in a gesture of symbiotic brotherhood. The bloggers have yet to really decide how they feel about it, too-- they swarm with great glee around high-profile morons like Ted Rall and Alex Beam, they rally behind Blogland heads of state like Lileks and Reynolds and Sullivan, and they trash the mainstream media probably more than it deserves to be trashed. The balance and symbiosis that will eventually emerge will probably look nothing like what we have today, and everybody knows it. We just can't predict what will end up happening.

So, "Blog" is today about where "Website" was in 1995. Where will it be in 2009? And what will be the new "Blog"?

12:53 - Virtual Parks-- Best Use of QTVR Yet


An enterprising photographer has decided to make QuickTime VR panoramas of just about the entire national park system of the western US and Canada. It's-- well, here's what it said in the QuickTime Newsletter that pointed me toward the site:

“Now that humanity completely dominates and influences the natural environment, my vision is to use QuickTime as an artform in the 2000s to help preserve what precious little wilderness is still left.”

So says Erik Goetze, publisher of Virtual Parks, a website with hundreds of incredibly photographed, large-scale QuickTime VR panoramas of North American wilderness.

Let Erik take you from ghost towns to lighthouses, from fields of wildflowers bursting with life, to the eerie, desolate landscape of California’s Mono Lake. Explore the John Muir Trail, or witness the first sunset of the new millennium off Point Lobos at California’s Big Sur.

Browse panoramas by geography, visual theme, best-of-site, or by alphabetic index.

It's a really nice site-- very smoothly navigable, fast, and very full of some of the best VR content I've ever seen. Give it a look, if you have any interest in the outdoors. And I hope you do. You don't have to be freakishly obsessive about it like I am (I spent the drive in this morning looking at every panorama and mentally adding different kinds of trees and different road systems and deleting buildings and imagining the Valley of Hearts' Delight-- as Silicon Valley was once known-- having developed in any number of different possbible ways), but I suspect that just about anybody will find something to like.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
13:16 - At least some things never change.

I don't have a URL for this-- it was on NPR, and I haven't been able to find it on the web news yet. But...

You know how there's that standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with Israeli tanks in Manger Square and Palestinian militia holed up inside?

Apparently, a group of Japanese tourists went inside and started taking pictures.

Nobody had informed them that there was a war going on.

UPDATE: Some kind readers have furnished me with the URL.

11:41 - Al Qaeda's getting desperate...


Looks like just an accident... after all, the pilot radioed in an SOS beforehand.

And besides, if this was a terrorist attack, it's a pretty bloody stupid one.

11:31 - Oh, God.

According to this, the government is considering using Microsoft Passport as a means of central personal identification.

How long before the government requires that every adult in the country sign up for a Passport account? How long before Passport gets hacked-- possibly by unfriendly foreign nationals who now have more to gain than simply people's credit-card numbers? Now they would have the census database of the entire US?

How many catastrophic and embarrassing mistakes does the government have to make with implementing Microsoft software before they deem it "too great a risk"? Remember when that Navy destroyer went out with an experimental machine running Windows NT manning the helm-- and it crashed? And they had to tow the ship back into port?

Isn't it a little bit sickening that the government's "Chief Technology Officer" is considering adopting the very technology that IT departments all over the country-- including the one at my company-- refuse to let inside the building because of its demonstrated insecurity and its network intrusiveness?

Okay, in this case I'm all for the government dragging its feet.
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
03:16 - Hey, keep up the good work, guys!

Remember a couple of months ago when Microsoft announced to the world that they would abruptly stop pursuing "more features" as their primary development goal, and instead focus on "more security"? How they would place security above all other priorities? How they would rework all their corporate action policies to take security very very very seriously indeed, thereby to address the long-standing, well-supported, and unwavering public perception that Microsoft software is about as secure as a cat on vacuuming day?

Well, gee, guess what: there's another egregious IE security hole. And it's easily exploited, requiring the user to do nothing more complex than press the Back button.

And Microsoft refuses to acknowledge that it's a problem.

"Originally, I was only able to produce the same result when the user pressed the refresh button," Sandblad said in an e-mail. "I contacted Microsoft about it in November and they confirmed the problem. On Feb. 28, I received mail from them saying that they didn't think the problem was serious enough to fix."

"Later, I e-mailed Microsoft with additional information, describing how it was possible to trigger the same flaw with the back button. A couple of days later I received a mail explaining that they might fix the problem in a future service pack. I told them that I was planning to go public with the vulnerability but that I could wait if they could convince me that they were going to fix the issue in reasonable time. They didn't respond at all."


"Why the hell did they put a back button into the browser toolbar if they didn't want me to use it?" Martin Montez, a stockbroker, wondered. "I'm one of the few people in the world who actually reads the manuals and there's no warning anywhere that using the back button could compromise your system."

Microsoft's spokesman said that the company "remains vigilant in our commitment to keeping users information safe and will be addressing this issue in an upcoming release."

Yeah. Of course we believe you. After all, what reason could you have to lie?

What I'm waiting for is the Big One-- the security flaw that results in a huge amount of lost national-security data, bank customer information, or critical government files. Something that will get the Big Boys so seriously pissed-off at Microsoft that they will smush them into the dirt like a big, indolent cockroach.

I'm almost sad to see that they're abandoning .NET so early-- because it was our best hope to date of seeing that happen.

19:14 - Microcosms

In our weekly meeting today, our group leader was talking about a discussion he had been having with the VP of Engineering. The topic was product quality, which I mention only for context. There's been a fair amount of disagreement around here among the developers, Marketing, Customer Ops, and the executive staff as to where our company's weaknesses are and how we can best tackle them. Some say perceived quality is our biggest Achilles' heel, others think it's about product functionality and diversification and placement. Our boss told the VP that "I don't see that there's much consensus that quality is where we should be investing right now."

The VP replied, "I'm not looking for consensus. Sometimes you just have to be a leader, and convince everybody that this is where we need to be going-- not to just wait until everybody agrees on something."

It's relevant in business, and it's just as relevant in international politics.

16:51 - What you say!

An NPR commentary on the recent revelations by the Mexican council of Catholic bishops that there had indeed been a history of sexual abuse by priests said that up till now, priests who had problems with sexual misconduct had been "reassigned to other parts of the country."

...Where, presumably, they don't have children.

15:38 - No point in wasting time...

I'm getting less and less patient with people who urge patience-- about taking care of business in Iraq and other such places. Like the WAMM (as mentioned in Lileks' bleat today) and the other peace-activist groups who think we should just wait, negotiate, and dispose of all our military weapons. "Weapons kill and injure people, pollute and destroy the environment, fuel hatred, divert funds better spent on domestic needs, devastate families and communities, and create a false sense of security." Uh, yeah, and your point is what?

Let's have some WAMM member's daughter get blown up in a coffee shop, or have their headquarters get firebombed and grafitti'ed, and we'll see how evil and unnecessary they think weapons are.

But what gets me is this idea that we should solve these problems by waiting and thinking. As though that's helped any in the past 6,000 years. As many have noted lately, the longer we wait and do nothing, the closer Iraq gets to having nuclear weapons and citywide-deployable anthrax. But that's okay, as long as we don't provoke them, right?

Uh huh. Tell that to Lower Manhattan.

These are the same people-- or people with the same attitude-- as the ones who "appeased" Hitler, and who let the Microsoft antitrust case drag on for five years while their monopoly grew more and more unbreakable-- to the point where even if the case had turned out to rule against Microsoft, any punitive action they could take would be utterly meaningless. (Oh wait-- the courts did rule against Microsoft? Why, so help me, I never even noticed! How could I have overlooked all the damage Microsoft suffered as punishment?)

I can only assume that when the government drags its feet on some issue like this, it's because they're taking their time to ponder and think and make sure everybody will be happy. They're weighing all the options, building a case, gathering the troops, and making sure they have complete justification for everything they plan to do. Government action is often slowed down so much by negotiation and politics that they're brought to a complete standstill, while the issues they're arguing over trundle on by.

Presumably there's a reason why they do this. Presumably they legitimately fear a backlash if they were to act rashly.

But I have to ask this: When was the last time the government ever suffered under accusations that it was acting too quickly and boldly?

In the case of Iraq, scuttlebutt at InstaPundit is that we're waiting only as long as it takes us to rebuild our weapons supply:
We still have a lot of bombs to build before we take out Iraq.

At the end of last year, people noticed that we had greatly diminished our stockpiles of smart bombs and non-nuclear cruise missles in Afghanistan. I recall (but do not have a citation) that the general guestimate was Sept/Oct of this year to build enough ordinance to drop on Saddam.

In the mean time, the US is playing the Israel/Palestinian game to make the rest of the Arab world go nuts. The US supports Israel, plays with Arafat, and hopes to rope a bunch of dopes into our sights when the bombs start dropping. Until we have the bombs we need to end this quickly, we're going to do what it takes to keep the Middle East and the numerous maniacs that inhabit it looking like the evil idiots that they are.

Once we have enough bombs, we'll know who to drop them on and this will come to an end.

Well, we'll find out soon enough whether that's the case.

WAMM opposed the war in Afghanistan, before it began-- presumably because it was to involve weapons. Now, naturally, they oppose any action against the Palestinian suicide bombers, because that would obviously make us "executioners" (and dynamite belts don't count as "weapons" because they're not military, I assume).

Yeah, if I were bin Laden, and I saw that a hated oppressor nation had people in it who talked like this, I'd attack it too.

15:13 - Not quite a conspiracy theory, but...

Another nugget of joy from David Newberry-- a transcript from a recent PBS show about the Freedom of Information Act, atomic testing, Watergate, and the Bush administration's behavior since 9/11 with regards to putting all government accountability on a need-to-know basis.

Give it a read. It's worthwhile stuff.

It also has worrisome little bits like the following:
President BUSH (FROM TAPE): Yeah. I – uh – heh – yes. There needs to be balance when it comes to freedom of information laws. There are some things that when I discuss in the privacy of the Oval Office – or national security matters – that should just not be in the national arena. I'll give you one area, though, where I'm very cautious and that's about e-mailing. I used to be an avid e-mailer. And I e-mailed to my daughters or e-mailed to my father. And I don't want those e-mails to be in the public domain. So I don't e-mail any more. Out of concern for freedom of information laws, but also concern for my privacy. And, uh, but we'll cooperate with the press unless we think it's a matter of national security or something that's entirely private.

Indeed. So in other words, the President doesn't trust the security or privacy of e-mail enough to use it. Which tells us, I suppose, even if we'd previously dismissed Carnivore and Echelon as harmless anti-terrorism tools that only the paranoid feared, that we should have legitimate cause to avoid e-mail? That if even the President can't guarantee his own e-mail privacy, we certainly can't assume that our own privacy is any better guaranteed? The fact that his worries stem from his e-mails being a lot more likely to contain matters of national security interest than yours or mine is not really at issue, nor is the fact that the people he's trying to protect his e-mails from are the General Public rather than malicious hackers. The principle is the same, and the message is the same.

It's called "eating your own dogfood" in the software industry: Visibly use your own product, or else nobody will have faith in it. Why should people use Windows 2000 when Hotmail runs on Suns and FreeBSD? Likewise, if the government is avoiding e-mail because of privacy concerns, that should freak us out.

Once the war is over, I hope we step back and take a good long look at the things that the government has done lately to seal off its accountability from the scrutiny of the public. And we need to keep Ashcroft on the run-- we need a few more black eyes for him, like the one he was just handed by the Supreme Court over the child-porn case, to show that he has no public mandate to keep us all in the dark and under thought control.

It's still 1974, and we still don't need no education.
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
22:43 - Hey, maybe there's hope after all...

I had planned to sit out on the topic of today's decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the earlier law that bans any depictions of children in sexual situations, whether there were children involved in creating those depictions or not. I figured that surely someone else (probably someone further east who got home and started blogging earlier than I do) would weigh in, and more efficiently than I could in any case.

Well, surprise surprise-- Steven den Beste leaps to the podium:

No-one I know defends anyone who gets off on child porn. Neither do I. But that's not the issue involved. The point is that this particular kind of material can be produced without children being harmed. Given that, the Court just decided that Congress could not ban it.

The government's argument, which the Court rejected, was that the existence of this kind of material was a danger to children anyway because it might induce those who viewed it to go out and molest real children. But as soon as you accept that argument, you've opened the flood gates. Does that mean you should be able to ban racist hate speech because someone who hears it might later go out on a lynching expedition? Or ban books about jewel thieves because those who read them might become thieves? Indeed, for almost any kind of expression, popular or unpopular, can't you produce a plausible reason why letting it be expressed might cause someone to commit a crime of some kind?


This decision gave Ashcroft a nice black eye, too. He'd been winning every battle he stepped into ever since 9/11, getting all kinds of measures put into place that never would have flown prior to the attacks. He's been cruising for some come-uppance, and this is just the kind of smackdown that he deserves. The Supreme Court has shown itself to have a more thorough understanding of the First Amendment than he does, and they believe in it more strongly.

I'm also glad to see a Supreme Court ruling go in a positive direction-- because it means you don't have to read those words that set my teeth so neatly on edge: The counsel for the prosecution said that they were disappointed with the verdict, but that they would appeal. This was the Supreme Court, bub. No appeals for you.

And good luck trying to slip something like this into our coffee again, unless you're willing to wait until the whole Supreme Court is staffed by right-wing control freaks appointed by some despotic lunatic who thinks he's acting For Our Own Good.

13:52 - Little do they know...

I love this.

Lately, on the way out to lunch or randomly where I happen to be in the office, I'm doing my usual vaulting-off-handrails and leaping-in-the-air stuff. (David says I must burn 6,000 calories a day just being me.) And people who walk by look back with bemusement and say,

"You've had a bit too much sugar today!"

Uh huh. I haven't had sugar now for six weeks.
Monday, April 15, 2002
01:06 - Oh. ...Right.

I had something I needed to mail out to somebody today; I was thinking, on the way in to work this morning, that I would swing by the post office over lunch, get a mailer envelope, and send it on its merry way and be back at work before my test run had completed.

But then I realized-- oh yeah.

Never mind.

I'll do it tomorrow.

00:47 - More about Selfishness and Religion

As has happened an eerie number of times lately, Steven den Beste and I have independently arrived at very similar topics to write about. In this case, it's about the role of selfishness in religion.

He has a correspondent who writes:

Anyway, when I did teach morality - and even in the other subjects, since morality came up all the time - I always got very tired of the constant student refrain, "Why should we (fill in the blank)? Why be honest? Why wait until marriage? Why be pro-life? Why care about the poor?

And then one day, I shot back another question in response to theirs:

Why not?

As den Beste immediately points, out, this is a shift of the burden of proof-- and I would like to note that such a shift is epidemic to religious thought. You will always run across such reasoning in creationism-vs-evolution debates, for example. And the reason is that shifting the burden of proof onto the nonbeliever is the biggest logical weapon that believers have in these kinds of debates. "You have to prove that God doesn't exist," they say. And because it is scientifically impossible to do this, the Babel Fish argument notwithstanding, they will claim victory.

The crux is that religions tend to have axioms of ineffability. These axioms are what render any scientific reasoning useless. "You can't use things like dinosaur bones or radiocarbon dating or cosmology to say anything definitive about the nature of the universe, because God could have made everything look however He wanted to." It's impossible to argue against this. We can't know anything for certain about anything beyond "I think, therefore I am"; based on that foundation, any postulate that requires absolute certainty is by its nature one-sided. Science is based on theories that continually change; religious dogma, as den Beste points out, is based on stated truths that even science cannot assail on its own terms. The two sides use different rules.

I'm agnostic; by definition, that's pretty much the only thing a scientist can be, as I learned through long, sleepless discussions in darkened libraries with friends in college. In science, we can't be sure of anything, let alone the existence or nonexistence of an omnipotent force in the Universe that can choose to obscure itself at will (or indeed to manipulate the perceptions of the humans who try to contemplate His nature). Science is about proceeding based upon the facts we have been able to prove; nothing is assumed to be true unless we can prove it. This is the opposite approach from the dogmatic one, or even from the atheistic one: both dogmatists and atheists know the truth about God. Scientists know that knowing about the patently unknowable is impossible, and so agnosticism is the best anyone can do.

Anyway... after discussing these kinds of issues for a while, den Beste turns to the idea of selfishness. His tack on it is not the same as mine from yesterday (that religious belief tends to be based fundamentally on selfishness), but I believe it's related: he says, using the correspondent's letter as a prime example, that selfishness is taken to be an axiomatic evil in Christianty. If anything you do is selfish in nature, you are acting counter to the will of God and you must change your lifestyle.

And ever since, it's become my handiest moral decision-making tool, for myself and to share. Try it. Think of your most pressing current moral dilemma or even spiritual growth issues and apply that question. And see if the only answers you come up with don't make you feel like the biggest snake in the grass ever, and move you a couple of feet closer to doing the right thing.

Why not give more to the poor?

Why not tell the truth?

Why not address your children with a little more patience?

Why not apologize?

Why not go to Mass this morning?

Why not pray tonight?

Honestly - aren't the answers coming into your head along the lines of, Because I want more stuff. Because I'll be embarrassed. Because I don't want to make the effort. Because it will wound my pride. Because I don't feel like it. Because I'd rather watch television. Because I'm afraid of what I'll lose.

Sheesh. Can I feel any more selfish? Can I be any more convinced of my need for God's grace to overcome these stupid reasons not to act out of love?

Funny-- these aren't the reasons I think of when I ask myself "Why not" do these things. My responses are about social responsibility, discretion, social grace, being right, and knowing from my own scientific experience that praying and going to Mass aren't going to make my life (or anyone else's around me) better-- not when I can be doing things for other people based on my own motivations, rather than based on the assumption that if I can't come up with a good reason not to do something, I must do it. There are some things that don't need to be rationalized. Why not go attend the pro-Israel rally in San Francisco today? Because while it's a nice idea, my time is better spent elsewhere, and will provide more of a benefit in the long run. This isn't selfishness, even if we accept that selfishness isn't inherently evil. It's just practicality.

But that's still avoiding the issue that I wanted to return to before closing. Selfishness, I believe, is seen as such a hideous crime in religious eyes specifically because so many people's religious thoughts are founded on their own selfish desires to get to Heaven. They may know subconsciously that that's exactly what it's all about-- and oh, the guilt they feel. Hence their need to decry it all the more in other people, when it's manifested in secular guises. It's the same reason why we saw the 9/11 hijackers in strip bars, using cell phones and wearing expensive sneakers-- the symbolic rejection of such temptation is the whole basis of their spiritual cleansing. When Muslims, Mormons, and the Amish take field trips in their youth to Las Vegas, there to revel in the hedonism of it all and then virtuously reject it-- they're illustrating exactly this phenomenon. Denial of a human instinct on one front so they can have it in a more "pure" form elsewhere.

Don't be selfish in secular matters, say the Christians, and you can safely be selfish about going to Heaven.

Be chaste and ascetic and embrace death, say the Muslims, and you get endless sex and debauchery in Paradise.

It's a double standard, yes. And that's part of what I find so repugnant about organized religion: it's designed very carefully to manipulate these basic human urges-- calling people to deny them so they can be rewarded later by indulgence of those same urges.

I prefer not to be manipulated, thanks. I like to think I can decide what's right and wrong on my own, and act according to the rewards I expect to get directly from those actions. And that, right there, is what makes me a secularist.

...Anyway, on another note. I was sort of hoping nobody would catch me omitting the bit about how there are female teenagers blowing themselves up in the West Bank as well as young men; so what's their motivation? Surely it isn't those 72 membraneous virgins, is it? Nah, I kinda doubt it. But rather than completely puncturing my argument, I think it's more likely just an example of there being a spectrum of motivation for the suicide bombers. Some honestly believe in the 72 virgins and all that. Some don't really believe it, but they're idealistic and desperate enough to blow themselves up anyway. And some are simply miserable and want a way out, one for which they will be remembered.

Which is still serving one's self-interest, come to think of it.

05:26 - Hee hee.

Chris and I were sitting, panting, at a table outside the squash court at the 24 Hour Fitness, like we often do on late weekend nights. It had been an exhausting game-- I'd just begun to play nasty, like he does all the time, and finally gave him a run for his money and actually made him fight for once.

As we sat, we could see a sidelong view of the TV behind the check-in counter, where the night attendants were watching... something. I knew they had an Xbox attached to it (I'd seen them playing Halo on it before), but this time we were far enough away from it-- across the lobby, and looking at the screen almost edge-on-- that I couldn't tell for sure whether it was a movie they were watching, or some game with lots of talking heads.

The faces looked chiseled, somehow; the heads moved in a staccato way that looked like they had been animated rather than filmed. It was a guy and a woman, talking under eerie bluish light in a techno-sort of office-type place. I thought for sure it was a game; maybe that James Bond thing or something.

We talked aimlessly for several minutes; then I looked over at the TV and noticed that the same two people were still talking.

"I sure hope that's a movie, because it'd be a boring-ass game."

And Chris replied, chortling, "Yeah-- must be an Xbox game."

Yay, their artistic vision is realized.

05:00 - Oh yeah--

While you're here, go read today's Bleat. It's about that photo down below. And it's good.

Well, good is sort of a relative term in this context. But it does help with the perspective-type stuff.
Sunday, April 14, 2002
03:17 - Sage Words From Amongst Jollity...


From Cap'n Wacky's Unfortunate 4th of July Cards:

This card has it all, really: a grim joke about murdering your children, frightening cartoon characters, and (just in case you couldn't picture it on your own) a drawing of a boy blowing up.
To anyone who complains that our society has become too desensitized to violence in recent times because images in TV and movies, I urge you to take a close look at the exploding boy in this vintage postcard and ask you to never raise the argument again.

Good point, there.

I think the only difference is just that there's so much more media out there now that's too easy a target for people desperately wanting to blame the things that kids do on something. With evidence like this, it's easy to conclude that earlier decades were just as uncivilized and desensitized as we are today-- and perhaps more so, because of the macabre sense of humor that haunted us throughout the years following Poe and Twain.

Remember, this is a 4th of July greeting card.

01:00 - Force Powers-- a delete option?

That new Jedi Starfighter game, for Attack of the Clones, is now flooding the airwaves.

It's finally here.

With a sleek, aerodynamic design, state-of-the-art navigation system, and the most powerful engines in its class; the most-anticipated vehicle of the year is now available... with Force Powers.

First it was midichlorians. Then it was video games with Force-O-Meters to tell you when you could score critical hits and stuff. Now the Force is another name for nitrous.

By the time Episode 3 rolls around, we'll have Jedi Knights powering-up with the Force blasting all around them like Dragon Ball Z energy waves. "Forceu powah-uppu Very Jedi Wondaful! Level 100%!" And then they'll turn 30 feet tall and have seven-bladed lightsabers, or hey, maybe space mech battles too. Why the hell not?

The more Star Wars episodes we get, the more impossible it's going to be to watch all six in episodic order. How the devil can you go from Episode 1, with its "These credits are perfectly acceptable." "What, you think you some kind of Jedi or something? With you mind tricks?" to Episode IV, with its "These aren't the droids you're looking for"? It's not going to make any sense. The Force will go from being lots of big flashy lightning-bolt-looking things shooting out of everybody's fingertips into a Zen-like mystical fabric of being. Just how are we supposed to reconcile these two storylines? It would be one thing if it went progressively from one to the other; but it's bad in Episode 1, and getting worse in Episode 2. After Episode 3, the jolt going to 4 will be grinding the gears so hard the teeth will go pinging all over the engine compartment.

(Apologies to Lileks-- that bit was just too good not to reuse.)

I think it's safe to say we've lost any hope of Star Wars ever resembling what it once was.

23:27 - We're more alike than we think (or sound, or our best testing indicates)

I've had this cynical anti-religious set of reasoning in my utility belt for a while now; it goes like this:

HIM: You should join my religion, because it is the One True Way to salvation.

ME: Okay, tell me: Why are you trying to get me to join?

HIM: Well, because only those souls who accept <SAVIOR> will receive eternal reward in Paradise.

ME: In other words, if you do what your religion says, and make sure other people do too, you get to go to Heaven.

HIM: Er, yes.

ME: So what you're saying is, the human motivation to which religion appeals is... selfishness?

This always makes people put their index fingers in the air and go "Uhhh..." and sputter and get all indignant. But honestly, it's really an ingenious little trick, as old as time: Disguise social conscience as self interest, and because people will always act in a way that serves their own interests, this way you get all the good things religion teaches-- charity, brotherhood, love, peace, kindness, etc.-- because the people practicing it are acting in their own interests. They aren't trying to better the community or build strong families or whatever. They're doing what will benefit them in the long term. They get to go to Heaven.

So when I run across the following, quoted by Ken Layne...

Khaled, a hotel worker, spoke in wonderment of a martyr's encounter at the gates of heaven as someone having their file checked: "There will be blessings for 70 of his family and friends. The 72 virgins are real -- their skin is so pale and beautiful that you can see the blood in their veins. If one of these virgins spits in the ocean, the seawater becomes sweet. The martyr is so special he does not feel the pain of being in the grave and all that his family has to do to cleanse his file thoroughly, is to repay his outstanding debts."

Surely, we ask, this view of the Koran should be seen as philosophical? As a parable? But no, there was a chorus of disagreement from a gathering of his friends in the teeming Jabalya refugee camp near Gaza City: "No. This is real . . . this is as it will be," said Khaled, as much for himself as on behalf of younger Palestinians who now talk endlessly of the benefits of death over life in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 200 Israelis in 18 months.

But Dr Rabah Mohanna, whose Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has claimed its own share of the violence - including last year's assassination of a minister in the Israeli Government -- is confounded by youth's lunge for the grave: "Thousands of young men and women are ready to be blown up. It is a new phenomenon -- you have no idea how big it is."

...My first reaction, like (I believe) many other people's reactions, is along the lines of "Geez, these guys are really serious about building a Palestinian state, aren't they? They're so dedicated to their cause that they're willing to die for it. They're willing to see the cause succeed even if it means they can't be a part of it. God, I can't imagine believing so strongly in an ideal that I would go to that extreme, not in our culture. They must be so different from us, there's no way we can negotiate!"

And, well, I'd be wrong. Because the only thing that makes them different from us is the stories they believe.

Consider: You're a Palestinian teenager. Your life sucks. You live in a refugee camp. Instead of Digimon or N'Sync, your entertainment is the promise of 72 virgins awaiting you after death. There's no question that this is real; it's universally accepted as truth. So death is better than life-- that's all well and good. So let's all kill ourselves, right? Well, no-- there's a catch: you have to die as a martyr in order to get the 72 translucent virgins. Okay, so what's a martyr? Well, it's like a sports star. It's someone who dies a certain way: fighting in jihad. It's a role model, an example to follow. It's a "When I grow up..." figure.

Note that Israel isn't necessarily even part of this picture.

You're a teenager who wants the 72 virgins. Your overriding concern here is the virgins, not the jihad. The martyrdom is a means to an end. You're not thinking about a Palestinian state; you're just thinking "Hey, look-- a convenient cause which will qualify me as a martyr." And so you strap on a bomb and take out a Jerusalem coffee shop.

Mission accomplished.

When pressed, sure, they'll shout for the blood of the Jews to run in the streets. Of course they will-- incendiary rhetoric is easy to instill and amplify. People love to absorb stories to repeat, and they love to believe in a cause and shout out to the world about why it's right. We do exactly that in the Christian world; just look at a televangelist or two. But the motivation is still those 72 virgins. It's whatever will fulfill us personally, not the ideals of the rhetoric itself.

They're serving self-interest, not social conscience. Not the greater good. Not the Cause.

Whoever has been fomenting the recent fascination with the suicide fantasy among Palestinian firebrands is a genius: he knows exactly how to motivate people.

Just like Westerners, they're motivated by selfishness. It might look like piety and idealism, but deep down it's the same thing that drives people anywhere to do what they have justified to themselves as being "right".

Doesn't mean that we have to accept that it's right, though.

I've never been a religious person, because far too often I've seen exactly this kind of motivation at work, right here at home. Sure, religion is a fine way for many people to make sense of the world. I have no problem with that. But we'd better not be lying to ourselves when we think about why we're religious; because if we are, we're blinding ourselves to the mindset of other cultures-- particularly cultures that think nothing of making us infidels dead on their way to translucent-virgin-land.

22:10 - Where'd THAT come from?

Bizarre little stab at Cisco on the Simpsons just now.

An e-mail from Marge travels through wires and conduits... to a room where wires go in and out of a dented, dilapidated metal box with "CISCO SYSTEMS" stenciled on it and flies buzzing around it, and a caretaker snoring in a chair nearby.

What was that all about?

18:41 - NVRAM Breakthrough

Man, do we ever take some things for granted in the computer world.

Like, for example, the inherent difference between RAM and hard-disk storage.

When you think about it, it seems a ridiculous couple of things to have to coexist in modern computers. And yet so many of the functions in computing-- in fact, almost all of them-- are dedicated to dealing with moving data from one to the other and back again.

Oddly enough, hard drive space and RAM size have not wildly diverged. Rather, they've stayed separated only by about one or two powers of ten. When 386-based PCs were all the rage, an 80MB hard drive and 2MB of RAM was quite a serviceable arrangement. A couple of years ago, 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive were fairly normal. Today, you can expect to get a fairly high-end machine with 1GB of RAM and 80GB of disk space.

If you'd asked me in 1991 what our computers' respective storage sizes would be in 2002, I'd probably have said we would have 1GB RAM/512MB hard drives, or maybe 100GB hard drives powering machines with 16MB of RAM. I wouldn't have known which way it would go-- but I would never have guessed that the ratio of sizes would remain roughly the same.

With this in mind, doesn't it seem weird that our mass storage media are still so much fundamentally slower than our powered run-time memory?

Why do we have to educate new computer users about such concepts as:
  • The computer has to "boot" each time you turn it on, so that it can copy the operating system from the disk into memory.
  • When you run programs, the computer has to copy the programs from the disk into memory before they can do anything. When you quit programs, they are deleted from RAM, but remain on the disk.
  • When you work on documents in applications, the data exists only in RAM, until you explicitly "save" it-- tell the program to copy it from RAM onto the disk.
  • Each time you turn the computer off, everything in the RAM is deleted-- any data in documents you haven't saved, any programs that are running, the whole active copy of the operating system. This means that when you turn it back on, you have to wait while the computer boots, copying it all back into memory again.

Is it just me, or does this seem a little bit ridiculous?

We expect people who are brand-new to computers to accept these machinations as "just the way it is". We have to have training courses which spend their first couple of weeks explaining the difference between hard drives and RAM and why the two exist. Yet we have Palm devices that we can "turn off" and turn back on-- only to have exactly the same data on the screen as was there when we turned it off; and we have Macs that can "sleep", use almost no power, and come back up to exactly where they were before. (Although Macs will still lose all their RAM contents if you unplug them-- and Wintel PCs have "sleep" too, but it isn't anywhere near as efficient or fast.) So why can't computers just... be like Palms?

Well, if this new NVRAM development is for real and viable, we may have just that in our future.

Imagine-- you boot your computer once, and that's the last time you'll do it unless the computer crashes or you have to upgrade the OS. Regular shutdowns, like at the end of the day, are like turning off a Palm or putting a Mac to sleep-- just touch a button and the screen goes dark and the fans spin down, but everything in memory is still right where you left it. Touch the same button again, and pop! There's all your data again, unharmed.

And booting the computer would take only ten seconds or so, because you don't have to copy anything from disk to memory. The operating system just runs from where it is-- the compiled bytecode exists on disk in a format that can be directly executed. The only thing the computer has to do during boot is to fire up the I/O systems and test the devices. Then it's ready to rock.

Want to run a program? No need to "load" it into memory anymore-- if it's stored on the computer, it's both permanently stored and ready to execute. Just open it and it's running.

Want to create a document, or edit some existing data? Just open the file-- it's right there in memory already. Make changes, and they're all instantly and permanently stored. No "saving" necessary.

Of course, this means that many applications' "Revert to Saved" functions would now have to be reworked-- right now, the function represents a cheap hack that simply discards whatever's in RAM and reloads the file from the disk. But if there's no discrepancy anymore between the file on disk and the file in memory-- there's only the one copy now-- the apps would have to consciously keep a copy of the file, in the form that it was in when you opened it, in a temporary memory location-- and "Revert" would throw out your current file and read in this backup copy. But then, this also opens up the door to any application having an arbitrary number of "undo" levels, rather than the binary nature of "what's on disk" and "what's in RAM".

Reportedly, this new NVRAM is both high-capacity and fast. It must be slower than existing RAM (there's more for it to do), but then it's definitely going to be faster than doing everything off disk (run an OS completely in swap space and you'll know how painful that can be). So that's two out of three: fast and spacious. If they can nail the third key factor-- cheap-- then we'll have a revolution on our hands that rivals the transistor.

16:05 - It's totally different! See, the name has changed

It has not escaped my attention that the name of the store in the strip mall a few blocks up Aborn, in the same place where the Taco Bell is that I frequent, has changed recently from "Budget Cigarettes" to "Aborn Cigarettes".

The question that's easy to pose rhetorically, but that I'm not willing to find out the answer to even though it's also easy, is whether this is because of a change of management where the new owner decided a name change would be a good idea for its own sake... or if it's because somehow the concept of "Budget Cigarettes" just seemed so horribly squalid and despairing that even the owner was feeling suicidal about it?
Saturday, April 13, 2002

Geez, it seems the Simpsons producers keep getting into hot water over their obstinate refusal to keep all the envelope-pushing social satire of the show bound within the alternate-universe bubble of Springfield, USA.

First, many years ago, it was New Orleans into which the show ventured-- with the musical of A Streetcar Named Desire. You remember the words: "Long before the Superdome, where the Saints of football play / Was a city that the damned called home-- hear their hellish rondelé..."

An episode or two later, Bart's blackboard read "I WILL NOT DEFAME NEW ORLEANS". Whether this was pre-emptive or the result of an actual Cajun outcry ("I sue yo ass, Ah gar-ron-tee!"), I do not know. But now, after poking fun at Presidents, Knoxville, Washington D.C., and Australia, they appear to have stepped on the toes of Rio de Janeiro.

In the episode, bumbling family head Homer Simpson is robbed by street kids and kidnapped by an unlicensed taxi driver after his family ventures to Rio to find a missing orphan that daughter Lisa sponsored.

The family runs across rats and monkeys while looking for the orphan. When they find him, he has grown rich working on a television show and pays for Homer's release in gratitude for shoes Lisa had bought him to escape monkeys at the orphanage.

Rio tourism board president Jose Eduardo Guinle asked the board's legal team to look into what action could be taken.

"He understands it is a satire," tourism board spokesman Sergio Cavalcanti said at the time. "What really hurt was the idea of the monkeys, the image that Rio de Janeiro was a jungle. ... It's a completely unreal image of the city."

What makes one satire target lift his voice in shrill complaint, while all the rest take it in good humor? Is Brazil's tourism industry that low on confidence, that it thinks people will stop coming to Rio because of a Simpsons episode?

Ah well. I'm glad Brooks' apology was on the flippant side.

21:19 - I must blog this drink...


I've discovered a drink that's delicious, healthy, rich in vitamins, and completely free of anything damaging or habit-forming. No caffeine, no calories, no sugar, no carbohydrates. And it looks awesome too.

1-2 fingers of lemon juice, then fill the glass with club soda. Add a generous splash of Da Vinci sugar-free cherry syrup-- or Torani if you don't mind having actual sugar in yours. Just put in enough to make it red, or more, depending on your taste for cherry syrup.

You can add a head by sprinkling on some Splenda or packet sugar.

I've had two glasses of this stuff already this afternoon, and I think it's going to become a staple for me. Yet another bad, nasty habit of mine. I just can't resist the siren song of lemon juice-- and this combines it with other stuff in such a way that it will fill my Atkins days with glee.

To life!

(What, you thought there was going to be alcohol involved or something?)
Friday, April 12, 2002
12:55 - Calvin, eat your heart out...

Fresh Air this morning had a discussion of the physiology of tears-- why we cry, how we cry, the psychological aspects of crying, etcetera. They received a caller named Jasmine, who said, and I quote:

"Hi-- I'm ten years old, and I'm currently watching my three-year-old brother. It doesn't seem like he cries any more or less than girls his age. So I was wondering, what is the anatomical difference between boys and girls when it comes to crying?"

Damn... ten years old? That kid's gonna be going places.

12:17 - Oh. How romantic.


The big launch finally arrived. On November 14 at 12:01 a.m., Mr. Gates handed over the first Xbox to a dedicated gamer who had waited for hours at the Toys 'R' Us store in New York City's Times Square. Mr. Blackley and his new girlfriend, Vanessa Burnham, were at the scene. He introduced her to Mr. Gates.

"You know, Seamus, I think she could help you get your act together," Mr. Gates said.

"You think so?" Mr. Blackley asked. "Something has to."

"You ought to marry her," Mr. Gates said.

"You think so?" Mr. Blackley replied.

"Yeah, absolutely," Mr. Gates said. "Here's a ring."

"I'll give it a shot, OK, cool," Mr. Blackley said. He got down on one knee.

"Vanessa, will you marry me?"

She laughed, then answered, "Yes."

"Thank you," Mr. Blackley said.

He rose and they kissed. Everyone in the store applauded. Mr. Blackley put the ring on Ms. Burnham's finger. John Eyler, CEO of Toys 'R' Us, presented a stuffed animal to her. Mr. Gates had been briefed, but he had ad-libbed the part about Mr. Blackley getting his act together.

Oh, yes, honey, I want to tell our grandkids about how you proposed to me by having the richest tycoon in the world rehearse a ridiculous little off-the-cuff exchange at a public press event and give you a free ring paid for by the blood of all the companies he killed. At that, an exchange that makes it look like you'll do anything he says, like getting married on his offhand suggestion. "You think so?" You pathetic toady.

Great article. Five pages of behind-the-scenes action, the whole story of how the Xbox came to be. All Microsoft fans take note: It was not Billzor Gates and Steve "E-trip" Ballmer, hip 20-something geeks playing air-hockey in the steam room in the sub-basement of One Microsoft Way, who suddenly said to each other, "D3wd! We should like totally make a game console!" "Yeah! We'd be 3l33t!" No. Not hardly. Read this thing. It's all the brainchild of Seamus Blackley, a failed game developer with an ego to match Bill's own, who was desperate to rebuild his shattered self-image after a devastating failure on a game he was working on for Spielberg. He proposed the idea to the Microsoft execs, who hated the idea at first. They took a long time to warm to it. But Blackley kept at it, goat-skulled; he was going to get his own back, damn them all.

I mean, look at this story. It's all a huge, disgusting ego trip. Sure, the guy has an admirable quality to his ideals: video games that are art rather than entertainment (Sony) or toys (Nintendo). But dude, art doesn't sell. At least, not unless it's a part of something larger that does sell.

So when you have internal propaganda like this:

There were plenty of other moments when Mr. Blackley's flair for "morale building" activities got him into trouble. At one internal meeting, he showed an animation dubbed "Survival of the Fittest." It sported a couple of Microsoft's mascot characters at a shooting range. They fired weapons and eviscerated mascots like Sega's Sonic, Nintendo's Mario, and Sony's Crash Bandicoot. He was quoted in a newspaper as saying, "Playing video games is like masturbation; everyone does it but no one wants to admit it."

... Somebody's got to see this effort for what it is: the paranoid scheme of a megalomaniac with more ambition than sense, more talent than intellect. Oh, they all said I was mad... mad! They called me a no-talent hack! They all laughed! ...Well, who's laughing NOW? Haaah hah hah hah haaaaah!"

Granted, it's a perfect fit for Microsoft: inferior in every way that counts, they release their inadequacy-related stress by symbolically blowing up the symbols of the ones who are successful. Hey, look-- it's the David Gonterman of the technology industry! If they can't succeed, they just make it up in really crappy volume, mockery, and FUD. That's the American Way!

Look, I'm big enough to admit that there are many things that the Japanese do so much better than we do that we should not even try. Video games are clearly one of them. Sure, Nintendo and Sony may be big cutthroat corporations with hardly any more ethics than Microsoft. But at least they won on their own merits, by making products that people wanted and by appealing to people's imaginations. With the Xbox, Microsoft is being everything that everybody hates about America: big, dumb, megalomaniacal, ethically stunted, and yet backed by enough resources to shoulder aside the beloved incumbents purely because they think it's their manifest destiny to spread their influence into every corner of the technology market.

I kicked walls when Microsoft decided to move into the server market, bringing a decidedly inferior product to bear against far superior platforms that already served their purpose perfectly well. Windows has never been suited to servers. It's not even designed to be remotely-accessible, for God's sake. There's no useful command line. The distributed-client architecture of Windows client-server apps is a sick joke. Why did they get into this market? Because they could. Because there was money that other people were getting, that they decided they should have instead.

I shrieked to the heavens when Microsoft brought out WinCE devices, creating a monstrously crappy alternative to the already hugely popular Palm platform. WinCE has always suffered from Windows' flashier-is-obviously-better problems; even their ads tout WinCE as superior purely because its e-mail client has more colors. Can your palm do this? (moving loose fist up and down) Never mind which platform is more stable, more extensible, more flexible, or has about a thousand times as much software available for it. Why did Microsoft get into this market? Because they could. They saw someone else getting money hand over fist, and they wanted it instead.

As always, Microsoft will keep doggedly pouring money into these things, making new versions, supporting their initially bland sales figures, gradually patching up the products until they're passable in functionality. But by then, the marketing team will have done their job: convincing the public that the Microsoft product is the only viable choice, no matter how crappy it actually is. All that matters is convincing IT directors and CEOs and gamers that as long as something looks pretty, it must be better. They did it with Internet Explorer (IE3 was awful beyond belief and encouraged bad coding style and had a non-standard table specification, but hey-- it was free! So it's obviously the one we should all be coding for now!). They did it with AVI movies (gee, QuickTime invented the whole concept-- but we can't have that! It's not a Microsoft technology! So let 'em have their little "MPEG" standards. We'll use our own free crappy stuff, everybody will make AVIs because they can, and QuickTime will die!). They've done it with Windows and with WinCE. And now they're going to do the same thing with the Xbox.

Back in 1996, my concern with Microsoft was that they would splinter the Web by forcing everybody onto their inferior browser with its lack of adherence to standards and its poorly implemented feature set, and a great part of the flexibility and promise of the Web as envisioned in the HTTP and HTML specs would be lost forever. Given the garbaceous state of IE at the time, it seemed like a distinct possibility, and the appearance was that Microsoft was simply experimenting-- dabbling irresponsibly in a field where it was dangerous to do something half-assed, where their poorly implemented solutions would inadvertendly kill much that was good in the industry. I wrote many feverish e-mails to whatever addresses I could find at the Microsoft website, berating them saying, "If this is the best you can do, maybe you should stay out of the web browser market." After all, just a month or two before, when asked whether Microsoft would start up an Internet division, Bill Gates had snapped, "That would be like having an electricity division."

Well, as it turns out, my fears were exactly correct. The web now runs exclusively on IE. The coding idiocies that IE had encouraged are now accepted standards-- rendering tables without </TABLE> tags, displaying blank table cells as empty rather than blanked-out with the table border color, supporting BMP images inline, and worst of all, completely ignoring all HTTP headers-- such as Content-type, Content-length, and other such useful controls-- so that it can display Word documents inline even if you've explicitly set the Content-type to try to prevent it from doing that. We no longer have the ability to program web apps according to the flexible published specifications, all because Microsoft successfully pushed IE down everybody's throats.

And yet my reasoning behind this was completely wrong. This was no accident. Microsoft had intended all along for things to go exactly this way. IE3 was crappy on purpose-- or at least, they didn't sweat the details-- because all that mattered was market penetration. Just get it out there, and make sure it's free. Tout useless technologies lke COM+ and ActiveX. Sneer at browsers that don't display gargantuan BMP images inline. Just get it out there... and then worry about making the browser usable. And yes, IE is now a very good browser. It's very fast (well, hell, it's a kernel process now), it renders everything according to spec (because Microsoft took over the W3C and rewrote the spec to fit their rules), and it works with every page known to man. So is this success?

Is this the path to market that we should be encouraging? Isn't this a bit like allowing suicide-bombing to result in renewed negotiations for peace with more concessions given to the side of the bombers? The ends justify the means?

Personally, I do not like that prospect for the technology industry.

Is there any market into which Microsoft will not insert itself if it can be shown that there's money to be made? Obviously video game consoles are not so wildly off-the-beaten-path that they won't leap into the fray, pretending to be the underdog and appealing to the easily-impressed-by-surface-flash geek-wannabes who failed high school calculus but who pronounce SQL as "Sequel" and think they're hot bat shit, just like they did with WinNT/IIS and with WinCE. What's next? Digital TV devices? Oh wait, yeah. So... military equipment? Genetic therapy? Recombinant DNA and viral weapon research?

And of course we're going to keep on sucking up everything they give us, until every nightmare sci-fi scenario about a maniacal corporation that controls everything in the entire world, like in Resident Evil, has come true.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
02:55 - Hey, this stuff could be fun...

So we were eating lunch today at Armadillo Willy's, with big Texas burgers and peanut slaw and those really good fries they do. Our new guy, Johnny, was along with us for the ride-- we've been giving him a crash course in what it's like to be a part of our freaky social circle (and QA team)-- the stories that make up our collective lore, the people who make up our cast of characters, and the opinions that inform the running gag that we call life.

I picked up my tray, with the double cheeseburger with no bun. See, I've been eating Atkins-style lately, mostly because the rest of the household is doing it, and as everybody knows I spend most of my time flailing in the air having jumped off cliffs from which my friends have already hurled themselves. So, no bun for Brian. In the words of that Jack in the Box ad, "My hands were covered with meat and cheese!" And Johnny gave my plate such a look...

His order was immediately called, and he went up to get it. During the meanwhilst, I half-seriously hatched up a scheme with David under which I would quickly affect a religion where it was forbidden for me to eat bread. Atkiism, or something, where carbohydrates are kufr and only greasy meat can be considered kosher. When pressed for details, I'd glare into Johnny's eyes: "Hey, don't you oppress me, white boy!"

Unfortunately our attention spans shoved us onto something else before he even got back-- ketchup-bottle physics or Australian Rules Football or animation cels from a tiny low-resolution, low-quality QuickTime movie, where each cel has all the low-res blockiness and JPEG artifacts dutifully painted onto the acetate... and so the moment had passed.

So why am I watching Taxi and pretending to work on new server tools instead of getting something useful done?

Because I've got stupid thoughts from the middle of the day to dredge back up and commit to electrons, that's why.

You don't have to thank me.

02:24 - It's times like this that I wish I had my camera along...

Now that we're on Daylight Savings Time, my drive home-- which takes me through downtown San Jose right about 7:20-- is the source of some of the best colors of the entire year.

Those who know me well know that I take a certain bizarre pleasure in the oddest of things. One of those is the drive home. It's relaxing, it's liberating, and it gives me a different movie to watch every time I do it. Tonight's feature gets three and a half stars.

Right after the DST switchover, the 7:00 hour is the sunset hour. This means that as I drive east through downtown, the sun is setting behind me-- it's already dipped behind the Santa Cruz Mountains enough that the freeway itself is in shadow, but the buildings of the skyline and the mountains behind them are still lit. And better yet, spring means the end of the smog season in the Bay Area-- it's now the era of clear air, high clouds, fog spilling through the cracks in the ridges of the Peninsula, and that golden quality to the light at sunset that reflects off all the downtown buildings' windows-- including the new one that's going up right next to the freeway. I don't know what it is, but it's turning out to be quite attractive-- tall (about 20 stories, which is tall for San Jose), symmetrical, clad in reflective glass except for the windowed stone-beige piers up the centers of the sides, and the westward-facing major wall sporting a gentle bulging curve that throws back the sunlight and strikes a pose like a building from the Presidio in a Star Trek future.

The best part of all this, though, is those eastern mountains. Tonight, as I passed through downtown, I noticed that the eastern ridge-- which got at least two dustings of snow this winter, luring me up into the Sierras for those two ski trips-- was still lit with that clear, golden sunset light. The cloud cover was wispy and high, lending some color to the landscape but not much obstruction to the light-- instead, the crest of the hills was wreathed with a series of what looked like that same kind of hill fog that constantly spills over into the Valley from over the western ridge, but that I'd never seen on the eastern one before. Depending on how poetic I'm trying to be, it looked either like a crown of thorns or a string of turds.

Above it, though, you could see the observatories. Those two or three bright white globes on Mt. Hamilton, the little specks of visible civilization that you can always see from down in the valley floor and dozens of miles away-- but today the light played on them in such a way that they leaped out from the cloud wreaths at their feet like a moon artificially inflated by being next to the horizon. They looked larger than life. They looked like the Spanish missions must have looked in the 1760s-- the only edifices of pure white to be seen for hundreds of miles, naturally attracting all the local tribes to come see them, to center their lives around them. The observatories seemed to be visible in as much detail as if I were standing in their parking lots, 3,000 feet up. With the sunlight glinting off them, with dim clouds behind them and drab fog below, they looked Olympian.

And then the sun went down all the way, foreground ridges obscured my view of the Hamilton crest, and I realized that my windshield was covered with spotty gunk from a recent rain spatter anyway-- so small good my camera would have done me.

Ah well. I saw it, at least.

21:47 - Ow ow ow.

Aaaaahhhh. I finally got that splinter out of my fingertip that had been in there for two or three days.

The only protruding bit had broken off, and most of it remained below the surface of the skin; it was very very very small, but not so small that I could type without getting a twinge every time I brushed against it.

I couldn't figure out which way in it was embedded. No matter which direction I tried scraping it with my fingernail, it never seemed to want to move toward the surface or stick out a tiny bit of length that I could grab with a pair of tiny little tweezers or a micropipette or something. It just kept hurting.

I always sort of wonder whether if you never get a splinter out of your finger, if your skin will grow back over it and it will become a permanent part of your body-- or if the act of healing sort of pushes it out regardless of how deeply it's buried or what its orientation is. I've never found out the answer, and frankly I'm not keen to.

So finally, this afternoon, I managed to dig it out with a staple. I used the sharp end to grind away the skin surrounding it until all that was left was a raw sort of miniscule hole-- and no splinter in sight. I don't know where it went. All I know is that I can press on my fingertip again, and all I feel is the light burning sting of raw skin-- not the set-your-teeth-on-edge stabbing pinch of nerve endings under a needle-sharp pressure.

Why am I writing this here? Well, because it was the most rewarding accomplishment of the day.

C'mon. Compared to getting lionking.org back online yesterday, anything else in a context larger than my fingertip seems sort of inappropriate. Work-- bah. Server features-- they can wait.

I got that damn splinter out.
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
23:38 - XBox Death Watch

The consensus seems to be forming across the Web: the Xbox is doomed.

Despite a brave face being put on lackluster sales by Microsoft's marketing machine, the numbers can't be denied: the Xbox is being outsold by the psOne. It's doing especially poorly in Japan and Europe, where they had hoped to make up for a weakish US start. They're taking a serious loss on the sale of each console, with an eye toward making up the cost on volume and firmware licensing agreements for developers-- and considering a) the low volume and b) the pathetic library of games, it would seem that the glowing green X-shaped tear in the top of the box is a gateway to Hell into which Microsoft is hurling bag after bag of large-denomination bills.

How sad does that make me? Hold on, I can't hear you-- too much loud music and carousing being done here. Someone just sprayed me with Silly String. The celebration party's a little too wild; I'll get back to you in a bit.

This Slashdot article has a lot of enlightening comments. (And a lot of insanely funny ones too-- one guy says "My kids think Gamecube is the cat's ass," to which another responds, "Help me out with the lingo here. Does this mean they like it, hate it, or just need a lesson in basic feline anatomy?") Among the less-raucous are tidbits like the one about how Microsoft plans to keep funding the Xbox sales push in order to keep the machines on store shelves for as much as five years, regardless of whether sales ever pick up. Hey, bring 'em on-- the more money we can make 'em lose, I'm all for it. Go nuts!

Other readers point out articles by Gord of the inimitable actsofgord.com: This one, where he speaks preemptively (in November) about the chances the Xbox might have against its entrenched competition in a real-world gamer's market-- and this one, in which he deconstructs the pricing schemes of the various companies and which ones subscribe to the "Sell the consoles at a loss and make it up on game licensing deals" scheme (hint: Microsoft is not the first to do it, but they're in the minority). The Gord hath spoken.

What you won't find among the Slashdot comments, however, is rhetoric from people who refuse to buy Xboxes on principle. You know, because it's Microsoft, regardless of how carefully they hide the MS logo in the Xbox ads. This is Slashdot we're talking about-- surely you'd expect that there would be at least some of the idealistic ranting. But there's none-- not a peep. I don't understand this. What has happened to these people's spirit? This is Slashdot, for Pete's sake. Open-source geeks. These people will fight a holy war over whether Linux or FreeBSD has the open-source license that's more likely to undermine and overthrow Microsoft's hegemony. These are people who will use StarOffice and KDE and GIMP and claim to their last dying breath that they have all the functionality of a Windows-using commercial-software sheep. And yet to judge by their comments, half these people bought Xboxes. What is wrong with this picture?

I was thoroughly convinced, along about November, that there would be throngs of Linux and open-source people out in front of Fry's at midnight on the day of the Xbox's launch, waving signs and passing out flyers and denouncing Microsoft's business practices-- just like they did at the Win95 launch and the Win98 launch. I was fully expecting to read all about it in the tech press the next day. But... I didn't. Why? Who knows? Who can understand the gamer's mind? The cynical side of me says "Sure, anybody can be idealistic when they're talking about office apps or Web servers-- but when it comes to Halo, all bets are off! W00o0ot! Go Xb0X!" And going by my experience with MMORPGs and the people who play them, I have a very hard time forcing that cynical side of me to shut up. I want to believe my friends have a little bit more integrity than that. I want to believe that the people I know and respect can resist the lure of bump-maps and battle-damaged cars and the gutted soulless husk of Bungie for the sake of a little solidarity in the face of a Microsoft marketing offensive explicitly designed to get under their defenses and win them over and make them start saying "Mmmmmicrosoft? Well... gee... I guess they're not all that bad..." as they bang away on their giant Xbox controllers.

No, it must be something else. Do these guys drop their facade of idealism in favor of sane pro-vs-con discussions whenever video game consoles are concerned-- because they're somehow not the same as desktop operating systems? Because the Microsoft that makes the Xbox is really not the same hated corporation that they've been fighting all their lives against-- they're an underdog now, so they deserve a fair shake and a chance to prove their worthiness in the market? Is that what's happening?

Unfortunately, I can't seem to convince myself that that's the case. My reasoning always seems to circle around to what my cynical side is telling me. Just wave some crack in the air, and the freedom-fighters will drop their keyboards and soak their chins with drool. If only the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were so easily won over.

I just got rid of my PS2 tonight-- I'd bought it on September 10th, so my heart was never really in it in the first place; I'd played Gran Turismo 3 for a few weeks, but as it turned out I haven't touched it in about four months. And truth be told, the only reason why I bought it in the first place was as a sort of preemptive strike-- to get a video game console into the house, so other members of my household would not feel tempted to fill that void by buying an Xbox for the house.

Now that such a move seems to be less and less likely, given the timbre of the headlines, I feel safe in unloading the PS2 to a friend. He wouldn't have been able to afford one on his own, and I was willing to pay to get the damn thing out of my room, so it worked out pretty well for all involved. And since the friend in question actually lives in the same house as me, the PS2 is moving to the big-screen TV downstairs, where it can be even more visible in its Xbox-displacing glory than it was before. I should have put it there in the first place.

And maybe it will elbow aside some sports from the TV. Believe it or not, I'd rather listen to video games all day than sports for ten minutes.

And in any case, it's not doing me any good up here. Time to send it back in to continue the good fight.

Meanwhile, I resume my quest to discover where the anti-Xbox solidarity has gone. Granted, people aren't buying Xboxes, but it's on the Xbox's merits (or lack thereof), not because of anti-Microsoft fervor. Hey, I'll take what I can get-- but I would love to see just one person refuse to buy an Xbox because they don't buy Microsoft products, even video game systems.

Is that too much to ask?
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
20:15 - Well Done, Mr. Fortune Man

I have a "fortune" database of all the Simpsons quotes for the first eight or nine seasons or so, compiled from the quote sections of the Episode Capsules at snpp.com. There are a lot of quotes-- like 5MB worth.

Each quote has a little credit line at the bottom, put there by whoever did the transcribing. If the quote is just a single line from one character, the credit line simply says (for instance), "Homer, 'Homer's Odyssey'", or if it's a dialogue, "-- 'Lisa's Date With Density'". But more often than not, and especially in the later episodes, the credit line includes an additional little witticism by the editor, for instance:

Homer: Donut?
Lisa: No, thanks. Do you have any fruit?
Homer: [offers some of the donut he's eating] This has purple stuff
inside. Purple is a fruit.
-- Mmm, purple, "Bart on the Road"

Often these little dabs of editorial wit are as amusing as the quote itself; just as frequently, though, they're just dumb. Regardless, they've attained their own life as an integral part of the process of quoting The Simpsons out of context.

Well, today I ran across what must be best quote credit line I've ever seen... the Perfect Tagline:

Bart: [sighs] I wasted five bucks on these.
Lisa: Where'd you get five bucks? I want five bucks.
Bart: Aw, I sold my soul to Milhouse?
Lisa: [incredulous] What? How could you _do_ that? Your soul is the
most valuable part of you.
Bart: You believe in that junk?
Lisa: Well, whether or not the soul is physically real, Bart, it's the
symbol of everything fine inside us.
Bart: [tsking sadly] Poor, gullible Lisa. I'll keep my crappy sponges,
Lisa: Bart, your soul is the only part of you that lasts forever. For
five dollars, Milhouse could own you for a zillion years!
Bart: Well, if you think he got such a good deal, I'll sell you my
conscience for $4.50.
[Lisa starts to walk off]
I'll throw in my sense of decency too. It's a Bart sales event!
Everything about me must go!
-- Great selection and rock-bottom prices, but where is the soul?, "Bart
Sells His Soul"

Bee-autiful. A masterful turn of the pen. As it were.

Best... tagline... ever.

Monday, April 8, 2002
00:52 - The Anti-Pickle Conspiracy

I think I know what the problem is.

The world is conspiring to deny Brian pickles.

About a week ago, I posted about my travails at the local Togo's with a server who seemed incapable of understanding that I wished him to put a large, plural number of pickles on my hot pastrami sandwich. I finally got my pickles-- oh yes, Brian will not be denied-- but not before reminding the guy no fewer than three times of my wishes that he should not only fail to ignore the giant bin of fluorescent salty green vegetable discs, but should fail spectacularly to ignore it. This he failed to do-- er, he failed to fail, I guess. He ignored me entirely, until I all but shoved two fingers up his nose and directed his head forcefully into the pickle hopper.

So I was in In-N-Out Burger the other day, with David. (In-N-Out, I should mention, for the benefit of those who don't live in the Southwestern U.S., is a rather spookily good burger chain-- spotless, spacious, all white tile with little red palm trees, with french fries that are fresh whole potatoes five minutes before they arrive on your tray and huge burgers with actual tasty cheese and with tomatoes and onions so fresh you can taste that they're cold inside. Their menu is almost a parody, comprising "Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Milkshake, Sodas, and Fries" like some kind of theme-park concession stand. But they also have unlisted "code" items: Double-Double (2x meat, 2x cheese), 3x3 (same thing times 1.5), all the way up through 8x8 (a friend of mine once ate one, very unhappily toward the end); Animal Style (with grilled onions), Protein Style (no bun, just a big leaf of lettuce wrapped around the innards, for those whose diets-- like the Atkins-- forbid them to eat bread), and plenty more that only the insiders know, like grilled-cheese sandwiches and salads and burger configurations familiar only to the elect few. In-N-Out employs clean-cut, white-bread, erudite, happy, eager-to-please, giggly but chaste high-schoolers from the 50s, plus happy-looking Anglo-Saxon family men who look like they must drive Lexuses, for $10 an hour-- almost twice the minimum wage. Every In-N-Out that has ever opened in California, Nevada, and Arizona has instantly had a lunch line that happily stretches out the door, around the parking lot, and down the street-- people are that enamored with the food this place serves, and for so little money too. And their soda cups and burger wrappers have little Book of Mormon verse references printed on them, hidden down in the corners and on the insides of the bottom rims. Make of this what the hell you will.)

...Right, anyway. So I was in In-N-Out with David, and I had just finished relating to him the hapless tale of Togo's and the Pickle Bait-and-Switch. I then casually mentioned how the last couple of times I had gone through the In-N-Out drive-thru, to get Protein Style burgers for my Atkins-Dieting roommates, In-N-Out had gotten something wrong in the order each time. First, they forgot Zjonni's chocolate shake. And on the subsequent time, they neglected (hey, surprise) to put pickles into my burger. Yes, I'd asked for extra pickles. Yes, they'd repeated extra back to me, quite clearly.

Just as I finish telling him this tale of woe, our orders are called. I go and pick mine up. We sit back down; he's rolling with silent laughter, and he reflects on the cruel irony of a worldwide conspiracy that seeks to deny pickles to me, the person who would cheerfully support the pickle industry singlehandedly if need be. Ah, life. He tears into his burger. I tear into mine. Wait. I pause, startled. I look closer. I look at David.

"Guess what they forgot to put on mine?"

00:28 - Blog Drought

Lately I've simply not felt very much like typing. I'm not sure why it is-- whether because world events just feel too large for me to pretend I understand them, or because everything I say seems unfailingly to offend someone whom I have no wish to offend, or because I have too much emotional energy wrapped up in getting my server back online, or because I have too much e-mail to answer and simply don't want to start because it's all the same stuff over and over again-- I don't know. But the upshot is that I can't blog even though I have tons of links to post, tons of opinion to write about, tons of stuff to accomplish.

I think my motivation gland has just shut down production temporarily. Or at least rerouted its efforts to other pursuits, like encoding QuickTime movies of Cartoon Network shorts and Samurai Jack episodes.

I know I owe a lot of stuff to a lot of people right now, but I'm afraid it's going to have to wait a little longer. There are some tangles in my life at the moment that I need to work up the energy to tackle with a comb.
Sunday, April 7, 2002
20:08 - From The Register: Microsoft has had its "teeth kicked in" over the Xbox.

Double aaaawwwww.

20:05 - Windows XP has inexplicably failed to take the computing world by storm...


Saturday, April 6, 2002
03:45 - Article of the Day (at the very least)

There hasn't been much blogging today-- not here, not at USS Clueless, not elsewhere-- and I think it's because people have been busy reading and digesting this article: "Among the Bourgeoisophobes", by David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

Go and read it. Join the crowd-- everybody's doin' it.

You'll find it's worth it. Why? Because it would seem, in two pages of concise analysis, to corral together all the cultural and intellectual sentiment that underlies anti-Americanism, anti-Israelism, communism, fascism, Islamofascism, and just about every other cause of war and struggle in the past couple of centuries. I don't think it's too aggrandizing to say that it's the Unified Field Theory that explains Hitler, Lenin, Hirohito, Marx, Saddam Hussein, and bin Laden. It can all be traced to the same cause and tied to the same motivation. It can all be encircled by one word: bourgeoisophobia.

Steven den Beste says he's going to have plenty to say about this article in the future. I can hardly wait.
Friday, April 5, 2002
16:20 - Blame Canada

Canadians with whom I correspond look with disbelief at the SSSCA and mutter sympathetically about how glad they are that they don't live in the USA; whereas we in the USA look at Canada's proposed taxation on high-capacity digital media (CD-Rs, hard drives, etc) which would inflate the price of an iPod threefold on the argument that it defrays the cost of piracy, and mutter sympathetically about how glad we are that we don't live in Canada.

My point? We're sort of in the same boat. Neither side of the border has the moral high ground when it comes to stupid political moves, and we can each look at our own governments and cluck sadly with as much ease as we can cluck at the one across the way.

But take a look at this letter over at InstaPundit, reportedly one which represents succinctly the attitudes of a great many other letters from Canadian citizens who are downright ashamed at their country's post-9/11 actions.

We have a government that values tolerance, understanding and sensitivity over justice. They value multiculturalism and diversity over prosperity, patriotism and national pride.

Our Prime Minister and government left most Canadians ashamed in the wake of 9/11. Canadians once fought valiantly for the cause of freedom. Two generations have passed since then. Our current government has no such morality, no such courage. Our government's response to September's tragedy sullied the memory of those who sacrificed their very lives to provide the basis for freedom. They provided the basis for freedom, but could not ensure it. Freedom must be earned each day. Our government, and many foolish Canadians, balk at the price (like the rest of the world, we prefer to let you pay for it). Today's government - although not just Canada's in this case - would gladly devalue to meaningless the sacrifice of our veterans when threatened by something as mildly evil and threatening as the Durban conference, never mind something so morally unequivocal as the World Trade Center bombings or Israel's war against those who wish it annihilated.

Were I Prime Minister in September I would have been in New York the next day - serving coffee if need be - but doing something to help. Our Prime Minister waited weeks and lied by saying that Guiliani's office had told him not to come! Can you imagine the shame of being represented in such a way? You are our very generous neighbour, for which I am ever-thankful. If my neighbour's house burnt down tonight, I would be there immediately to offer whatever help I could. True, most days we barely exchange a nod. I have never had them in my home. But there are times where being a neighbour takes on a different meaning. Canada's response to 9/11 was the equivalent of me standing over the ashes of their home and saying "that'll teach you to play with matches". That you are so forgiving of such "friends" as Canada is one of the reasons American culture is so much sought after, and is one of the reasons it will prevail.

We have a government still trying a dozen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to show that socialism works, and that government has the answers. We face an incredible tax burden due to a redistributive policy that, if not reversed, will see Canada become another Argentina in a generation. Our government is acutely averse to any policy that de-centralizes governmental power, or reduces their influence on the daily lives of people. They believe that charity does not start at home - it starts with the Prime Minister. Government largesse is doled out - in wildly disproportionate amounts to Quebec and other regions that continue to re-elect the ruling Liberals - with little regard for taxpayers and a belief that individuals cannot make a just society, only government can.

If the U.S. would accept Canadians as political refugee claimants you would have a long line at the border. Our country has ceased to be a representative democracy, and is suffering a slow death which the U.S. itself narrowly avoided. The takeover of our educational establishments decades ago has succeeded in destroying most of the characteristics of Canadian society that contributed to its early successes. The politically correct, tolerant-of-all-at-all-costs, multicultural, compassionate collective result is a country that no longer stands for anything. Nor are we against anything, except perhaps the U.S. Canada is a country that would be unable to define itself were there not an America. We cannot say what we are, or what we stand for, but whatever it is, it isn't what you stand for. Such is our anti-identity. What is going on up here is a people constructing a society whose goal is to avoid all that is right with yours.

I'm actually made vaguely uncomfortable by this-- I think it's the discomfort that someone feels who receives an award for work that was accomplished mostly by achievers who came before him, but for which he was only the most visible or recent figurehead. It's like having a PC user lavish praise on a Mac after reading my blog but never using a Mac himself-- it makes me go "Uh, well, y'know, let's not be jumping to conclusions here."

The fact is, I have a number of Canadian friends, most or all of whom are quite happy and proud to live where they do. They're rightly taken aback at the suggestion that they should emigrate in protest of their country's politics, just as I would be when things turn iffy around here. It's novel to get this perspective from actual Canadian citizens, because traditionally these kinds of sentiments have come from Americans-- Americans who consider Canada to be a funny little outrigger of a country, a place to go on vacation where there aren't many people in the tourist destinations, where we get to feel as though we're in a "foreign country lite" because of all the French and terms like "provincial parks" and all the ringing Highland surnames. We respect Canada as an equal when we really have to think about it, but for the majority of the time we belittle it. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut was widely enjoyed by Canadians all over, not least because it depicted Canadian influence kicking America's ass... but that whole framework of parody indicates our larger view of Canada, which is of a vaguely offbeat place just outside our range of interest where they talk funny and spell things funny and pretty much don't get in anyone's way. For all the attention Americans usually pay to Canadians, the latter really could be paper cutouts with beady little eyes and flapping heads. That's about as seriously as we take them.

I don't like this. I don't like belittling the people who should be some of our best allies, people who have a significant influence on world politics regardless of what Parker and Stone say about Celine Dion and the porn industry. I don't like hearing people talking about seeking political asylum on the other side of the border, even if it's people talking about themselves. If they're really serious about it, well, sure-- I would make a special effort to accommodate such a decision and its aftermath, as I'm sure those in Canada would do if I were the one moving.

But while this kind of idealism and admiration is encouraging and makes those of us who read it feel better about the things the USA stands for, I'm never that much at ease seeing someone dissing his own country in favor of the USA.

For countries to be strong allies, they need to be confident in themselves and their own ideals, rather than all trying to emulate some central swaggering idealogue. If America is in the Vin Diesel role in The Fast and the Furious, the guy everyone flocks around, the pugnacious and charismatic muscular sex machine that everyone aspires to be, the Tyler Durden to Canada's Jack-- then the gang is reduced to a cult of character. But if everybody in the gang is treated as an equal, each contributing the unique strength that he brings to bear, free of snide self-denigration and schizophrenia, then a lot more is bound to get accomplished.

I'm gratified to hear that so many Canadians are feeling ideologically closer to America these days, and I welcome their voices. But, hey, we're not right all the time either. And we need you too.
Thursday, April 4, 2002
04:05 - No sweat, my friend.

Steven den Beste has just posted a large and rather self-conscious reflection upon the politics of reciprocative linking-- he mentions how the blogs to which he links are limited in number, because of the layout of his site. I was in that list until today:

In fact, recently I added two more to it, and because it was too long I had to decide to remove one. And it hurt. It really did. Picking someone to take out was hard, and it really came down to a random selection. (I hope he isn't mad at me for it.)

Mad? Hardly. I consider it unexpected gravy that I was ever on that rarefied list to begin with; I'm still sort of at a loss to imagine a) how he ran across my blog, and b) what led him to conclude that I was worth linking to. My content is mostly either tech-geek ramblings which never seem to shake free of the Apple/Mac topic pool, or bleary political drivel that brings little to bear that is not derived from the opinions of other, more capable writers. I think my biggest asset is volume.

But be that as it may, I'm more than pleased to have been on his link list for as long as I was. (I didn't want to mention it for fear of jinxing it.) Since I know all too well what it's like to try to keep a site tidy and fair, I'm all too glad to give up my slot to give someone else a shot at exposure. Surely they deserve it every bit as much.

Rock on!
Wednesday, April 3, 2002
03:50 - Getting there...

Sorry about the lack of bloggage tonight-- I've actually got a few topics I want to cover, but they're going to have to wait until tomorrow.

I spent all evening tonight at the co-location site where my backup server is, the one currently running www.grotto11.com, copying its contents over onto a new 2u rack-mount server which will take over as the new primary server. I've got a couple of possibilities for where it will be hosted-- whether out of goodwill or by commercial hosting fees, or something of both, depends on how people feel over the next few days. But either way, I expect to have service restored by this weekend to Tuesday or so.

Just in case anybody cares, CVSup rules the world.

11:40 - Hey, this is good for a -- well, not laugh, exactly...

Cartoons in Egyptian and Iranian newspapers about Israel.

You know, they were pretty careful to avoid showing us the Nazis' actual anti-Semitic propaganda media during history class; we were mostly supposed to use our imaginations and focus on the consequences.

Well, if you've ever wondered what it looked like, wonder no more. And look at 'em all, internalize them-- not like it's easy to get 'em out of your brain-- because these are the images that the Arab world sees every day and thinks are as natural as Mickey Mouse is to us. This is the mindset that we have to dissolve at its core, and boy have we ever got our work cut out for us.

I think it's clear that what we've got on our hands is nothing less than the long-overdue and long-postponed reckoning for WWII, just as WWII was the reckoning for WWI. These things never do end, do they?
Tuesday, April 2, 2002
04:33 - Tartakovsky, Mako, Jack, and Steven

Earlier tonight, we were watching Conan the Barbarian on the big-screen TV downstairs. It's a lavishly designed movie, the Fellowship of the Ring of its day, and realized in a detail that the best of today's movies don't often match-- with consistency of style from the characters' costumes to the technology to the language and the lore. It has its drawbacks-- Arnie could barely speak coherent English at the time, not that it mattered much, and so many of his lines were indistinguishable from Stallone's boxing-ring squalls. But on the plus side, it had Mako.

Mako is the freaky witch-doctor-looking wizard in both Conan movies; he's the gravelly-voiced narrator who makes every line sound like he's holding back laughter at the world of the mortals. I'd wondered what had become of him-- he seemed to have vanished after Conan-- but as Steven den Beste points out in a welcome non-war-related post today (linked above), he has resurfaced in an even more fun role: the irresistible villain Aku in Samurai Jack.

I tell you, den Beste must have been reading my mind-- I was just gearing up for a post of my own about Samurai Jack and its artsy, lingering, self-assured lavishness. And I would have said almost exactly the same things, too, right down to his choice of favorite episode.

Genndy Tartakovsky is certainly among the very best animators alive today. His first series, Dexter's Laboratory, was a masterpiece. Now his second one, Samurai Jack, is even better and there couldn't be a greater contrast between the two.

It's classic cell animation, and it's being produced by Hanna-Barbera for the Cartoon Network. If you haven't been watching this series, you're missing something special.

(It should be noted, with some sadness, that the current season of Dexter episodes are quite awful-- largely because Genndy is off doing Jack, his new flame. The new Dexters are off-model, cliché, uninspired, and seem to borrow their stylistic direction as much from the H-B gunk of the 60s as from the 50s-retro Ren & Stimpy mode that continues to be popular among those who think the ability to emulate a 1952 Frigidaire ad is all it takes to be the next John Kricfalusi. Dexter isn't worth watching these days, more's the pity. But we certainly got a good run out of it.)

What Tartakovsky brings to Cartoon Network is an artistic sensibility-- one that has enabled the type of cartoon that has suddenly made the medium respectable again. See, there's this spectrum in cartoons:

Limited animation/Strong script ------------------------------ Lavish animation/weak writing

For far too long, cartoons have tried to live over on the right, on the assumption that cartoons could insult the viewers' intelligence, repeat plots and clichés ad nauseum, clone shows from each other, and provide a return on investment purely on the strength of animation that looks good. Hence Scooby-Doo, The Superfriends, and the whole crop of 60s and 70s Hanna-Barbera claptrap-- though, importantly, the animation in those shows was crap too, purely because of anemic budgets. If they'd had more money, they would have put it into animation quality, however, which is the crucial point; otherwise, the scripts would have been better to begin with. Animation costs lots of money, but good writing can be done on a shoestring if you have the right people.

Well, Tartakovsky is the right people. He understands that what the TV animation industry needs is stuff on the left end of the spectrum: limited animation, with writing that screams. And even more importantly, he brought this insight: Design the show to look good in limited animation. If the character design and the timing are done right, as they are in Dexter and The Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack, you can get away with inexpensive sprite animation with lots of repetition, localized body-part movements, and directorial techniques that in lesser hands would be considered "cheats": long slow pans, freeze-frames, repeated animation cycles, and background-less disembodied-head scenes. These things work in Tartakovsky cartoons, because the show is designed to take advantage of those techniques, to revel in them. The thick outlines and stark geometric designs work perfectly in the Flash-style animation where realistic human motion would never make sense.

All the most successful shows on Cartoon Network lately have been limited-animation. Space Ghost really kicked it off, and it's already become an archetypal icon: it made an art form out of recycled animation, because the writing was dead sharp, and a lot of the humor explicitly followed from the camp value of the animation's limits and repetition. (All my friends and I can do the Space Ghost power-band-arm-spin move-- a motion so intoxicating in its humor value as to have inspired this whole new revolution almost single-bandedly.) And now we have Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's collection of "cartoons for grown-up tastes", showing in the 10:00-1:00 block on weekend nights, comprising further subversive paeans to well-written limited animation such as Home Movies, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021, and of course Space Ghost-- plus newly minted premieres of shows that operate on similar sensibilities. Home Movies is pretty grim to look at, but the writing is top-drawer-- and it lends a lovability to the art that never would have been possible if it had looked better in the first place.

A perfect example of this mindset at work: When Cartoon Planet, the whimsical Brak-song-heavy spinoff from Space Ghost, was being shot, they hired a professional bodybuilder-type dancer to don the Space Ghost costume and dance around for the commercial-break interstitials. Yes, it looked really good... but that was the problem. It looked too good. It was completely wrong for the atmosphere they were trying to create, the freedom and democracy of the new form of animation. So they got Andy Merrill, the voice of Brak and one of the chief writers, to squeeze his rather dumpy butt into the Space Ghost suit and prance around. It looked unutterably ridiculous... and it was perfect.

It's not just Cartoon Network, either; look at South Park for a perfect example of what can be done with genius writing (Trey Parker is my hero-- he and Tartakovsky no doubt admire each other, especially considering the South Park reference in The Powerpuff Girls; in the "Patches" eipsode: "Guys... he tripped me. Seriously.") and what has to be the most limited animation on the planet today. Some may disagree with me when I say this, but I think South Park is one of the most visionary shows of our time-- as much for its embrace of an insanely ascetic animation medium which has grown into its own self-defined art form as for its incisive, infuriating, uproarious, insightful, and above all human writing.

Now, this isn't to say that lavish animation is dead. Far from it. Traditional shows that exploit outstanding animation standards are better represented than ever, what with the WB-descended Batman Beyond and Justice League, and the more-than-surprisingly witty and edgy Baby Blues. These shows are great-looking, but they aren't stuck at the extreme right of that spectrum; they have the budget for both good art and awesome writing, and so they shine.

But limited animation is still the hero of the day. It's so liberating to the creators that Cartoon Network can afford to do custom-animated shows like JBVO (where Johnny Bravo, armed with a library of pre-animated moves, hosts a write-in cartoon request show) and the Friday night Cartoon Cartoon with a rotating "host", animated to introduce the new shows; not to mention all the outstanding, irresistible ad interstitials featuring the Superfriends and the Powerpuff Girls. All the focus is given to the writing; the genius is allowed to flourish. And then the animation is laid on top to give it life, but not much needs to be added.

We've come a long way since the dismal 60s, when Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear were the edgiest voices on TV animation. (Tellingly enough, they made their mark through being limited-animation as well.) But what we have now is the true realization of the Jay Ward dream, where animation is the zest that brings life to an already golden script, rather than a crutch that props up writing that barely deserves to be credited.

Eventually the wheel will turn away once again, and shows like the ones that Tartakovsky does so well will fall out of favor. But in the meantime, let's revel in the joys of what we have: The impossible size and foggy, Myst-like mythical worldbuilding of the first "Scotsman" episode. The bone-chilling threat of the Jack-killer robots with their Vietnamese-esque armor and their Episode 1-battle-droid-with-actual-menace voices. The three minutes of silence as Jack meditates his way into a new form of sensory awareness before he attacks the tower with the wishing well.

Mako must be having the time of his life.
Monday, April 1, 2002
18:48 - The Ugliest Computer Ever


Oh, I love it. I just love it. Now, mind you, this isn't one of those cases that thinks it looks good, like those Intel/HP "concept PCs" that everyone's been guffawing at with such gusto for the past few months. No, this one's much more utilitarian, much less marketdroid-driven. It's... well, really, it's just a pile of goop with technology in it.

To be honest, I think it's really, really cool. I'm not saying I want one, mind you (and that's a good thing, considering the disclaimer at the bottom: "Due to the one-of-a-kind nature of the NHP200NC, reproduction is impossible and orders are thus futile"); but I do admire the forthright attitude of a guy who knows what he wants in a computer and enjoys having fun with the process of bringing it about.

It doesn't even count as an April Fool's joke, either, because the thing works and is real.

It's just something funny that happened to come to light on April Fool's.

14:59 - But at least the food's good...


MANUEL: Can I help you?

ME: yes, I'd like a large hot pastrami on white, please.

MANUEL. <pause> Large?

ME: <nod> Large.

MANUEL: <slicing the bread> Would you like everything on that?

ME: Yeah. And lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <pauses, looks at the sandwich, then at me> ...Pickles?

ME: Yes. Lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <looks confused some more, back down at the sandwich> ...No pickles?

ME: No, lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <nods> Oh!

He lays down the mustard. He lays down the lettuce, the tomatoes, the pepperoncinis, and the onions. Then he picks up the sandwich to take it over to where the meat is.

ME: Uh... no, I said lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <turns around, looks uncertain> ...Pickles?

ME: Yes!

He then puts on a moderate number of pickles, shaking his head to himself, undoubtedly silently cursing my indecision and peremptory attitude.

I keep telling myself that half the population is by definition under 100 in IQ. But even so...

Oh, and I've noticed lately that places like Togo's, Burrito Real, and even chains like Jack in the Box have little cups next to the cash register for tips. You know, at first I figured, hey-- these guys work hard for minimum wage, standing at the counter for hours on end. (Having once worked for a summer in the Ukiah pear sheds, standing for twelve hours a day, 6AM to 6PM, holding down the trailing flap of the pear boxes as they went into the gluing-shut machine, for $4.50 an hour, I know what it's like.) But after careful consideration, look: tips are for service. Cashiers don't get tips, because the service they provide that can't be done by a computer amounts to seeing what I have on my tray and making sure I'm paying for everything on it and not trying to sneak something past.

I tip heavily when I'm eating where there's an attentive waiter, especially so when the waiter is funny and acts like he's enjoying his job. I think such a case deserves all the economic incentive it can get.

But I'm not going to reward gross incompetence just because there's a handy place to put that reward.

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.
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© Brian Tiemann