g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, June 9, 2002
13:17 - Scooby Dooby Don't

I wonder where it is that Cartoon Network gets its demographic.

We've already determined that they treat Scooby-Doo as the default filler material, especially on weekends, and during any time slot when you're likely to want to just sit down and relax for some fun popcorn-munching viewing material. Turn it on some weeknight, hoping for some PowerPuff Girls or maybe even Courage the Cowardly Dog. And what do you get? Scooby-bloody-Doo.

We've already determined that Cartoon Network fans have enough of a grass-roots motivation for letting their dissatisfaction be known that they're willing to create a petition for the reduction of Scooby-Doo airtime. But the programming people evidently have access to market data that's more accurate and valuable to them than online petitions signed by hundreds of people, because they've reacted to the release of this looks-to-be-godawful live-action Scooby-Doo movie by moving "Scooby Movies" from their accustomed 2:00AM slot right into prime time, right when I get home from work. Interspersed with bizarre and facetious interviews with the even-then-pathetic "guest stars" who were on the shows, talking about how much fun it was to make them and what Scooby is like off the set. (Yeah, yeah.)

Let's not forget, this is Cartoon Network here-- the network that has created whole late-night Adult Swim blocks catering specifically to cartoon geeks like me who love Space Ghost and Home Movies and anime and John Kricfalusi. (I hear tell that Cartoon Network has hired John K. to finish out that infamous "Yogi Bear" series that he'd been contracted to do by H-B, of which he only completed those two nefarious episodes which they're now showing on Adult Swim on occasion. The next episode reportedly focuses on Boo-boo's sexual issues, and on the North American Man-Bear Love Association. Oh, for a world where such a thing can be reviewd by South Park's censors instead of those for Dexter's Laboratory.) And the demographic also includes guys like James Lileks and Steven den Beste, the latter of whom likes Dragon Ball Z. (No, I'm not gonna laugh. Okay, maybe one little half-Nelson. Haw!)

So, then, what the hell's up with all the Scooby-Doo? Do that many people really love that stupid-ass show? When they had that "presidential election" schtick back in 2000, Scooby won the Presidency, beating out all the current most popular characters. What is this-- nepotism? Are there cranky old guys in propeller beanies working at Cartoon Network right now with posters on their cubicle walls of Davey Jones and Eddie Winters and the Addams Family, who spend all their time writing analytical tracts about the philosophical significance of each S-D episode like those people in college who wrote about how Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the greatest and most insightful TV series ever made?

Without them, Cartoon Network would be hands-down the greatest network in TV history.

Where can we find these people, and how can we stop them?

12:38 - Where's my dose of sanity?

It's been an awfully long time since Adil at MuslimPundit has made any of his searingly insightful and well-researched posts about the idiocy of his co-religionists.

I hope he hasn't been put under fatwa of death and executed for committing offenses against Muhammad.
Saturday, June 8, 2002
20:49 - Weekends of Picnics, Barbecues, and Klez

Just got back from an afternoon picnic up at Grant Park, under the shoulders of Mt. Hamilton, to which we rode in a motorcycle procession-- myself on my ZX-11, Lance and Dave on the Buell S3, Dusty on his M2, Steve on his Suzuki SV650s, and Tor on his Gold Wing, with Drew and David bringing up the rear in their car. I got blisters on my feet from running after footballs in my motorcycle boots, but I've 'ad worse.

Besides, I got to test-ride the SV and the Gold Wing after we got back. The Wing was very trippy-- it makes you feel like you're in a Cadillac instead of on a bike, and the power just gets going and keeps going. But the SV is much closer to what I want in a bike-- very attractive styling, a small and lithe frame, reasonable power, and lots of agility (for maneuvering in parking lots as much as anything else). The seating position is a little bit cramped for me, but at least now I know what it's like to ride something in that class. Like, for instance, the Aprilia SL1000 Falco that I want so very very much. (Which, incidentally, the owner of the SV said that he planned to get as his next bike. Woo-hoo! My motorcycle tastes aren't unique and freaky.)

So now that's over, and I get to spend the rest of the weekend listening to the interminable whooping and coughing that accompanies any hockey game, while I get that DV editing out of the way-- as well as cleaning out about 700 Klez e-mails out of my mailbox. (For those who don't know about it, Klez is the most recent MS Outbreak virus/worm; it combs through your address book and your browser cache for e-mail addresses to use as the senders and recipients for copies of itself that it sends out.) I've received several thousand of these over the past three weeks, and while I can filter them, it's getting really old. Especially because there's a secondary effect to this one.

See, because Klez gets its sender and recipient e-mail lists from pawing through the Web pages in your browser cache, that means that owners of popular websites are particularly hard hit by it. Not just because everybody has a copy of your website and sends you copies of Klez. That's fine; that can be filtered. No, the really insidious bit is that it spoofs the sender so that other recipients think that it was you who sent it-- and if you have a popular website, that means that "you" are sending out Klez messages thousands and thousands of times a day to random other people.

Yes, I have a popular website. (Not this one, lionking.org.) And now I'm getting messages every couple of days from worried people all over the net who either want to alert me that some spammer is using lionking.org to send spam out from, or to scream at me for spamming them myself. If they'd just check the headers, they'd know that it's not me that's doing this-- but who in this world knows how to check headers? We live in a world of computer newbies, and it's only getting more so-- which is a good thing in many ways, as it forces companies to develop good software that's easy to use. But it's also a death-trap for companies that seem to rely on customers being security-conscious and willing and able to download patches for their crappy, buggy, ubiquitous software (e.g. Outlook).

I have to wonder, whenever I see one of these virii/worms making the rounds, whether the author had a specific type of target or victim in mind. (Nimda and Code Red, for instance, targeted people with Windows NT Server and not enough neurons to rub together to realize that they were running a web server on it-- let alone a crappy and buggy web server with exploitable security holes). Most of the "Anna Kournikova Naked" type of viruses target people who like to see celebrities naked (that's why I was wondering about that earlier this week). And in this case, Klez seems to be targeting people with popular websites-- because that's who's suffering most.

If you're using Outlook: PLEASE CONSIDER USING SOMETHING ELSE. Please... I'm begging you here.
Friday, June 7, 2002
02:20 - It's "just defiance"-- but defiance is everything

Ann Coulter says to Build Them Back, exactly as they were-- perhaps bigger, but definitely not smaller.

There have been many unsubstantiated assertions that no one would rent property in a rebuilt World Trade Center. But if fear of another terrorist attack were a major factor in New Yorkers' decisional calculus, they wouldn't be living in New York. The military has the technology to make the buildings safe from incoming missiles. Sept. 11 was a sucker punch. That particular trick doesn't work twice.

Moreover, this argument neglects to consider that by the time a new World Trade Center is built, Arabs will be about as threatening as the Japanese. Who would have imagined after Pearl Harbor that the Japanese were governable? Yet Japan hasn't shown a disposition to fight in 60 years. It is the rare individual who does not succumb to horrendous physical pain. Muslims feel humiliated now? We'll show them humiliated.

Aesthetes complain that the buildings were ugly. Perhaps. But the important thing is, they were really big. There can be a new design, but whatever goes up on that site has got to be bigger and better than the buildings the savages destroyed.

Read the whole thing; I had a hard time picking two or three paragraphs to quote.

It's clear to me that rebuilding on the site is a project that can't be dictated by economics alone; it's something we will have to attack as an ideological imperative, a symbol, a public work, like the dams in the 30s. They were useful, yes, and essential-- but they were also art, monuments that captured the spirit of an age. The WTC should be no less. It may turn out to be impractical; people might not even rent out all the floor space. But that's a subsidy that we as a nation should be proud to pay.

If they had stood for another fifty years, the towers would probably have been designated a national historic monument or something, and great pains would have been taken to preserve them as they were. Now, they should be afforded the same honor that would have been due them, plus a whole lot more.

To me, that means putting them back up, so similar to the previous towers that the opening of Crocodile Dundee II wouldn't look anachronistic. And holding a grand opening during which the biggest American flags on the face of the Earth would be draped down their eastern walls.

18:12 - I can't add anything to that...


13:45 - We Defend Ourselves with Star Wars and the Heart of Gold

Ken Layne speaks for the Secular Humanist American Populace (which, by comparison to any Islamofascist, nearly every single American is, right up to Falwell):

Yeah, it's cheap and wrong to quote a Star Wars movie when dealing with murdering bombers, but I think it's better than quoting Allah. I'm tired of Allah. I'm tired of Allah and Jeebus and the whole gang. What the hell have they ever done for anybody?

It is said that people will always look for some spiritual deal, no matter how rich and happy they are. Los Angeles is being savaged around the country right now because we have a basketball coach who wants his team to meditate before a game. But compare that to the scumbags running out of Jenin or Gaza or Saudi Arabia. Madonna doing yoga is harmless. Freaks doing jihad against office towers or a commuter bus is cancer.

Cut it out. Root cause? Idiots who believe in Super Gods. Ain't no super gods. Just us. I've read in my local Arafat daily that Americans who support Israel are right-wing religious folk. Really? I've seen a few blogs by such people, and I'm glad they're around, but most people I know are agnostics who started off wishing the best for Palestinian Arabs. Now, they're sick of it all.

Oh, you mean like me. Good, I'm not the only one.

They didn't have Star Wars when the holy texts were written, Ken. Those texts were Star Wars.

I'm also sick, by the way, of pretending that capitalism and democracy and a culture of entertainment consumption is sick and evil. It's not. We've seen evil. We know what these words we've been bandying about really mean, and there is no shame and no fascism in our recognizing that living a life that glorifies individual freedom and achievement and mutual respect in a heterogeneous world is inherently superior. I'm sick of having to avoid using that word lest I be accused of being an arrogant, self-centered American. Peggy Noonan of the WSJ is similarly fed up.

Norm Mineta, our transportation secretary, has a searing memory, and that memory determines U.S. airport security policy in 2002. When he was a little boy at the start of World War II, Mr. Mineta and his Japanese-American family were sent to an interment camp. It was unjust and wrong. The Japanese of America in 1942 were American citizens, not illegal aliens or visitors newly arrived; moreover, they had never, not one of them, launched an attack on the United States. What FDR did to them was wrong.

But the facts of Japanese-Americans in 1942 do not parallel the facts of our enemies today. Our enemies has already killed civilians and announced they will kill more. We know who the enemy is--we know many names, and we certainly know the general profile--and we have every right, or rather duty, to give those who fit the profile extra scrutiny. Instead we play games and waste time wanding people we know to be innocent, and searching their tired old shoes. We do this to show we're being fair. But we really know otherwise, all of us.

We are being irresponsible and careless in the hope that history will call us tolerant and compassionate. It is vanity that drives us, not the thirst for justice and a safer world. Mr. Mineta has received many awards for his sensitivity to ethnic profiling. Good for him, but I'd personally give him an award if he'd begin to act like a grownup and recognize that his childhood trauma shouldn't determine modern American security policy.

(I quote the same three paragraphs that Glenn Reynolds did because they happen to be the best ones for the topic at hand. I add this disclaimer not because I hope that history will not judge me a plagiarist, but because I'm slowly waking up. I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that there are some absolutes in the world, or things that are close enough to absolutes as to be indistinguishable from them. I'm beginning to accept that some things are more important than how we're thought of by our peers.)

Let's say that within six months, if we were to do nothing further in our war against terrorism, a nuclear attack of some sort were to flatten New York. What would we do then? I'd imagine that we would go through our list of terrorist-supporting states, one by one, quickly and methodically, and transform them into wholly controlled American protectorates with very little surviving infrastructure and substantially less civilian population. A terrible thing to have to do, but it's our tradition these days to respond to any terrible thing that happens by taking whatever precautions are necessary to prevent that exact same thing from happening again. Like antibodies to a virus, we've ensured that nobody's going to be able to use box-cutters to hijack a plane and fly it into a building again anytime soon, or to carry C4 onto a plane in his shoes. But the problem with antibodies is that they can be easily duped by a trivial mutation in the virus. We're closing a whole series of barn doors after the respective horses have left. We may well be unable to stop the next attack, whatever form it takes, once the operation is actually underway and the planes are in the air and the bomb is in play or what-have-you.

So what's the alternative? Why, taking whatever precautions are necessary to prevent the terrible things from happening in the first place. In the case of terrorism on a global, city-destroying scale, that means flattening entire Muslim countries. And how do we work up a national mandate to do that, if we're not responding to an actual attack on us in kind? We don't. We have never been able to. America just doesn't work that way. We're deadly in our retaliation, but retaliation is all it ever is. And that's what the bin Ladens of the world are counting on.

They know we can't bring ourselves to strike at them first. They know how much ridicule Clinton faced after his cruise missiles failed to kill Osama in his hut. They know what kind of trouble we get into with the world if we act like "cowboys". They know we're such wusses that we'll refrain from pre-emptively attacking radical Islam at its core as long as we have no clear-and-present threat short of a giant skywritten message over New York reading DEATH TO AMERICAN INFIDELS, spelled out by the contrails of North Korean nuclear missiles covered with scrawls of Allahu Akbar.

Fitting, isn't it, that "Star Wars" was what we'd dubbed the system that was supposed to protect us from that kind of attack, if it had ever been made to work?

Speaking of which, Lileks liked episode II. A lot. And to see why this is not a bizarre digression, read his Bleat. He has insights into the nature of Good and Evil, and Darkness and Reality, that are more than a little bit applicable to our current times. As was the Han Solo quote that Ken Layne offers in the first linked article.

I am ready, finally, to admit that I unconditionally prefer the world in which I live, where our biggest problems have to do with whether Anakin Skywalker is a believable character, to the world that is populated by people who are committed to a cause for which they will happily give their lives in order to see us dead. Ours is the world of the future, and anybody who agrees is welcome to come along for the ride. But anybody who lashes out at us out of spite and in a tantrum over how their Super God is no longer relevant to anybody but them-- well, it's time we started hitting them harder than they plan to hit us. That's the only way to stop them. They're designed not to understand reason or feel pain. They're trained not to value their own lives or the distinction between military and civilian targets. They've engineered themselves to be impossible to reform or to integrate into a world where they are not supreme. And so, tragic and horrible as it is, and as shitty as it is that we don't yet have the technology to imprison them in an envelope of Slo-Time and seal it with the Wikkit Key, we have to do the next best thing.

We have to put aside our vanity and our hope that we won't be judged fascist by future generations. Because if we don't, the only future generations to judge us will be the ones who call us demonic infidels already.

To what extent are we willing to go to prevent New York from turning into a fallout zone? We know what our enemies are willing to do, and we know that the only thing keeping them from doing worse than they already have is the lack of means, which they will undoubtedly gain if we just give them enough time. Is our safety from the next cataclysmic blow worth committing an action which the whole world will surely "condemn" <ack, pth>? What's the greater catastrophe?

We who have seen the future, even if it's a future a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, say that that future is worth protecting at any cost.
Thursday, June 6, 2002
03:29 - Multilingual Fun

"Brian! You took Spanish in high school, right?"

It was about 5:00 PM, and Richard was bearing down on my cubicle with that hopeful grin and desperate eyes of a man who has to call back a customer in Spain to tell him that he's ready to load the new upgraded software image onto his device and reboot it remotely, and whose only Spanish-speaking customer-ops guy had just gone home for the day.

"Uh... yeah...."

It's been seven or eight years since I've used Spanish in any practical context. I've never had the occasion, other than to listen to internal conversation of the people working at Taco Bell and to thank them when I hear them putting the proper funky decals on my complicated household-wide order. "Gracias!" I'd say, and they'd spin around, utterly startled that I could understand them and that I was paying attention.

So I was recruited to call up this guy in Spain, who spoke no English, and tell him "Hi-- we're ready to reboot the unit now and install the new image." Ya estamos listos para... er... umm.... What's "reboot" in Spanish?

Richard had the bright idea of switching one of our computers to Spanish and looking in the menus. He grabbed my Windows box and started -- well... he started out looking very purposeful and confident, but he was soon floundering and lost. Meanwhile, I fired up System Prefs in OS X, dragged Español to the top of the "preferred languages" list, quit it and reopened the app, and looked under the Apple menu, whose members were now all in Spanish. "Ah," I said. "Reiniciar."

So I call the guy up, I walk him through the reboot process in Spanish that comes freakily back to me on demand out of the depths of my brain, and we hang up amicably having done the necessary deed. At the very least, we seem not to have created an international incident. So that's good.

Anyway, this brought us into a curiosity-which-reinicié-the-cat exploration of Windows and how to change the default language. (We couldn't leave bad enough alone.) We found that the closest thing to it is the "Regional Settings" control panel, which baffled us with its odd terminology (what user has any idea what a "locale" is?), its half-explained controls and menus ("Your system is configured to read and write documents in multiple languages." That's nice. What in hell does it have to do with this list of languages with checkboxes next to them? What does checking them do? Who knows?), its impenetrably named code-page templates, and its seven or eight different places to do anything and everything. And nowhere in all this mess does it give you to understand that you don't even get any of those other languages for the OS interface; if you want Windows in Spanish, you have to install the Spanish version of Windows. Charming.

Whereas in OS X, it's all Unicode-based; so you simply drag the languages in the list into the order you prefer them in, and from then on any application you launch will go down that list until it finds a localized set of strings that matches your most preferred language, and uses that.

But that too got us thinking. I'd noticed that if you go to Google and select the "Language Tools", you get to see the Google interface in any of thirty or forty different languages, from Punjabi to Slovenian to Klingon to Elmer Fudd. Since we have Unicode fonts, we get to see things like Japanese, Russian, and Vietnamese in their native fonts, looking smooth and crisp, with all the letters beautifully rendered and accounted for.

But they're not all there. Not quite.

We couldn't help but notice that the Arabic page showed a bunch of weird, blurry squares. I'd never really paid much attention to this before; I'd assumed that it was just some kind of weird Unicode thing, a token that shows up differently in different displays. But then I noticed that the squares have what looks like an Arabic letter inside them.

Then I remembered that in the classic Mac OS, any undisplayable characters were shown as squares. So I thought, "I wonder"... and dragged a few of them over into TextEdit and cranked up the font size.

Look at that. It's squares, like always, for undisplayable characters. But now that it's all vector graphics, and because the Arabic font sets apparently aren't done yet (as they keep completing point releases of OS X, they keep adding character-set packs that fill out these blocks of letters), it's squares with cool information in them. The Unicode range that Arabic occupies, plus a central symbol to tell you what will eventually go there.

This is what it looks like when Apple isn't quite done with something.

So our curiosity was running rampant now; we switched into Unicode hex input mode (hold down Option and type four-digit hex numbers) and started entering values, to see what the ranges were like and what they were assigned to, and what symbols they had:

Mmm-mm. Isn't that insane? I love it. (And especially that Dr. Seuss-looking "Private Use" one.) Apple even makes unimplemented features look cool. These squares sit at the beginning of each block of assigned characters and define what that block is going to be, and if the characters haven't all been finished yet, they all show up as that generic identifier.

Oh, and depending on which letter you have selected, the available fonts in the font panel change. Select the Hangul character, and the six or seven dedicated Hangul fonts become available in the list.

There's always something bizarre and new lurking in an esoteric corner...

10:14 - You read Lileks now.

Regarding the Ashcroft fingerprinting proposal:

I don’t believe it. I don’t believe most Americans who practice Islam are going to be offended by this. And if some are, let me be honest: I don’t care. I am way past caring. I have not a jot of the care-sauce left in my bones. The care tank is empty. There’s no one home in Careville. The dog ate my care. The Care Crop didn’t come up this year. Self.com/care comes up as a 404.

Would I raise an eyebrow if the government quarantined everyone with a Koran, kept them in holding cells for a week, tagged them with a microchip and sprayed them with a dye that shows up on orbiting satellites? ? Yes, I would. I’m raising an eyebrow right now, just for practice’s sake. But when these people get hysterical about co-religionist non- citizens being photographed and fingerprinted, I not only disregard what they say now but whatever they say in the future, as well as whoever cites them as an authority.

Besides, I don't seem to recall huge rallies of American Muslims congregating on the Mall in Washington to express their support for the US and their furor over the hijacking of their faith by some wackos from Saudi Arabia. We all expected it. Why wouldn't we? Who would want to be associated at a casual glance with the 9/11 hijackers and with bin Laden? Who wouldn't rise up in grass-roots protest in a show of sincere loyalty to stem any tide of public mistrust which might be turned, however wrongly, against them?

If they're going to rise up and complain now about the fingerprinting of non-US citizens, when they didn't rise up before and complain about the tarnishing of the good name of Islam, then my well of sympathy will have run dry too. The best thing may be to make the best of the situation they've made for themselves and let those immigrants be fingerprinted like the rest of us have to be when we're in elementary school. Because what I seem to remember are Muslims putting up anti-Israel "blood libel" posters and beating up Jewish students at a rally at SFSU, and thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathering on the Mall to denounce Israel's brutal actions in Ramallah and Jenin and the US' support for them. Now, if these guys are more concerned with defending Arafat's suicide bombers than with being treated like they were all a bunch of Mohammed Attas, well, that's fine-- it is, after all, a free country. But they'd better not act surprised when people infer that if they support one group of Islamic terrorists, they might support another too.

No, I'm not saying it's time we put Muslims in ghettos and hold pogroms. To my understanding, we're one of the countries on earth least likely to do such things. Acts of intimidation against Muslims in America after 9/11, while it was feared that they'd be numerous and unstoppable, have turned out to be vanishingly few. Instead, synagogues in France are burned and Jewish members of the Norwegian parliament are forbidden from wearing Stars of David on their lapels and the German government cautions Jews not to wear yarmulkes or anything that would make them "stand out" as Jews. Yeah, go on. Take that moral high ground. I dare you. Oh, wait. You did. Now I have to figure out what to do with someone to whom you say "I dare you" and then does the thing you dared him to do.

I could be wrong, but I believe tradition recommends socking him in the nose.

I'm with you, James. I care enough not to care.

09:38 - Eww!

Yeah, I knew the Brits were squeamish about violent video games and stuff (remember what they did to Carmageddon? "You're running over... uh, zombies! Yeah, that's right!")... but I must admit I'd be a bit shaken too if they were playing this Xbox ad here:

The ad begins with a newborn child flying through a window before aging decades in seconds--then crashing and screaming into a grave as an elderly man. It was designed to illustrate the phrase: "Life is short. Play more."

Of course, what makes me shudder isn't even so much the content as the exhortation to take the best advantage of our limited time on Earth, with all the things we have here to do and see, by... uh, playing more video games.

I have friends who have lost years of their lives to MMORPGs and MUCKs and the like. They don't even consider those years "lost", either-- and while I'm not about to go pushing my values on these guys, it seems unbearably tragic to me that the headlong rush toward everybody being perpetually plugged into virtual-reality environments with head cables, with food and drink piped in, growing bulbous and hairy and losing any lingering interest in interacting with real people or accomplishing anything of material merit, is being embraced with such gusto.

Good job, Microsoft. Let's encourage it even more, hmm?
Wednesday, June 5, 2002
01:32 - Propaganda... or advertising?

The authors of Penny Arcade have an entertaining and right-on-the-money take on those "US Army" video games that are out right now and being lambasted for propagandizing to impressionable youngsters who might (gasp) be brainwashed into joining the military.

Give it a read. I particularly like Safety Monkey's description of the "Anti-Fuckface" intelligence built into the game. Sounds like genius to me...

18:28 - Well, it would have worked last time...

Arafat seems to be a microcosm (in time and space) of Saddam.

Both commit attacks against their neighbors and exploit their own people in doing so. So the military (the US in the one case, the IDF in the other) goes in, cleans house, eliminates the immediate threat (which is in fact neutralized while the action is taking place), and comes this close to taking him out of the picture entirely.

But then the military bows to international pressure, and backs down... and in a very short time, the dictator in question is back to his old tricks.

In Saddam's case, we took a bath under world opinion because we didn't actually kill Saddam-- instead we tried to get the Iraqi people to rise up without our assistance and overthrow him themselves. This was done as a condition of our coalition with the Saudis, who insisted that we not target Saddam directly. (More fools we.) Naturally, the Iraqi people went howling into battle, but we couldn't lift a finger to help them-- so Saddam put down the uprising with extreme force, and now the US is seen as a bunch of vile betrayers by the Iraqi people. Shows what we get for trying to be multilateral.

Now, after Arafat has been beseiged by the IDF in Ramallah for a period (during which his terrorist infrastructure was disrupted fairly successfully, to the extent that there was relative peace while he was held incommunicado)-- they let him go, bowing to international opinion condemning Israel's vicious and brutal acts of self-defense. And he bought his way out of the siege with some promises and some sellings-out of key figures in the movement (which Europe still can't quite figure out what to do with or what kind of gloves to wear when touching them, after volunteering happily to give the poor dears shelter from the big nasty tanks), and now-- with as much obvious cause-and-effect as turning a light switch back on-- we're back to the suicide bombings.

This one's bad, too. An innovative new idea: drive a car full of bombs up alongside a bus on a freeway, and flick your Bic. That's thirteen people splattered into the breakdown lane and a flaming bus hulk careening into the distance. Not a bad deal for the gas money, eh?

Oh, of course, Arafat condemns it. But the Taliban condemned the 9/11 attacks too, remember that? I'm beginning to hate that word. "The U.N. condemned today's actions..." Yeah, like it means they did anything but sat around and frowned at each other and nodded and muttered about how much it sucks. Everybody's condemning things. Everybody feels it's necessary to go on record saying how terrible it is that someone died or that someone rolled tanks or that someone was brusquely searched for dynamite belts. But when Arafat does it, it makes it sound even more vague and offhand and "Yeah, yeah, leave me alone"-- because it means nothing. It's just another required step, another element of the formula that scripts any one of these attacks and retaliations. Next will come Israeli action to disrupt the terrorist infrastructure, followed by UN condemnation of the brutal and entirely unprovoked actions of the IDF and that warmonger Sharon. Then comes extreme pissed-off-ness on the part of bloggers who want to see the whole thing end for once. As in, making Arafat dead. You want to break the cycle of violence? That's the way to do it.

Oh, and just to kick things up a notch needlessly: the only thing missing from conspiracy-theorists' and wide-eyed religious fanatics' scenarios in all the recent action has been ringing, historical-mythological names. Well, fear no more, for the End Times are surely upon us now: the attack took place in Megiddo, otherwise popularly known as Armageddon.
Monday, June 3, 2002
19:12 - Barbie Dolls as Kryptonite

Lance and I were recently watching cartoons, and he noted that in the toon world, one's genitals are located on the lips. That's evidently why male characters always react with such insane, explosive, wild-takey Tex-Avery-ism when they manage to get a kiss from a female character.

I had to imagine, by extrapolation, that in the TV world (or perhaps in the real world at large), one's genitals are located in the eyes. That's the only thing that could possibly explain to me this seemingly universally accepted notion of girl-watching. You know, the honest and private appreciation, for its own sake, of some appealing human form that you see going by in front of you.

Reading Steven den Beste's treatise on string bikinis (our last best hope in defeating international Wahhabism as well as both feminism and male chauvinism), I started out grinning at how silly and flip a joke it must be. But as it grew longer and longer, I started to wonder. I started looking over my shoulder to see if there was a hidden camera somewhere. I started wondering if I were being hypnotized into some kind of Matrix of bewilderment while some guy stole all my stuff.

Apparently the practice of girl-watching is not a joke. Apparently people do get honest enjoyment from staring at other people.

Now, I'm not making any declarations about the pros or cons or the ethics or morals of this practice. I don't think there's a thing wrong with it unless it makes the target uncomfortable. But I'm just confused at how universal and potent the draw seems to be. Do people really find themselves turning their heads so they can watch the movements of passing breasts or butts on the sidewalk? Do men actually sign up for aerobics classes so they can lurk at the back of the room and drool? Do people honestly like to watch girls jumping on trampolines? I've watched The Man Show enough times to understand that it's well beyond an Avery-esque slapstick joke; these guys apparently can detect some kind of up-and-down jiggle that's pleasing enough to them that they will spend a day in blistering poolside sunlight in order to stare at it.

I just don't get it. And I don't think it's only because girls aren't my thing, either. I can honestly say that I feel no magnetic force yanking my head around and making me crash into telephone poles no matter what shape any passing human is.

I'm similarly confused by celebrity worship. Right now there's an entire industry making money off the trade of illicit pictures of Pamela Anderson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and ... uh... I don't know. Fill in some supposed sex-goddess name here. Why? How can a person lust after someone they've never even met-- of whose personality they have not the slightest idea? It's just another body once the clothes are off-- those things that make people different, e.g. the face and the brain, are diluted beyond any meaning. Are these people supposed to be better in bed than the people you know in your everyday life? Are their bulbous bodily components actually orders of magnitude larger or more numerous than civilian ones? Or is it just the romance of an unattainable goal that spreads over the entire package?

What's wrong with me? Is it some glandular problem? Am I missing some little gall-bladdery organ that normally releases some kind of enzyme that makes people enjoy alcohol and donuts and causes them to hit themselves in the head with shoes when someone talks to them with a Mae West accent?

Maybe it's some trauma from my childhood. I remember back when I was about nine, and fascinated with cars, I would point out cool automobiles passing by our windows on the freeway whenever I saw one. "Whoah, look at that car! That was a Testarossa!" I remember my mom noting with a smirk that "One of these days, you'll be saying, 'Hey, wow! Look at that girl!' all the time." I remember going silent and internally vowing, yeah, right-- I'll show her. So maybe that's what happened.

...What? Stop laughing at me.

17:19 - Oh, good. Now there's innovation for you.


Whee! Look-- it's a PC motherboard with vacuum-tube sound amplification!

AOpen Inc. announced today that it is introducing the world's first vacuum tube motherboard, coinciding with Intel's announcement of the Pentium® 4 845E chipset. The new AX4B-533Tube Motherboard incorporates the novel, modern-day adoption of an idea that was spawned by the invention of the electric light bulb by Thomas A. Edison back in 1879 - the vacuum tube. In taking this bold step towards audio perfection, AOpen's hybrid AX4B-533Tube unquestionably is targeted to a very exclusive niche market - passionate audiophiles and extreme gamers who are interested in building their own ultimate entertaining PCs. The motherboard is also certain to appeal to retailers that desire to cater to these two eccentric groups with custom-built PCs, delivered with matching speaker systems and the latest CD and DVD playback devices.

Of course... how silly of us not to recognize the vast untapped market in the extreme gaming demographic.

It seems to me that the whole vacuum-tube audiophile market is one of the best examples of a diminishing-returns equilibrium that has ever been in physical evidence. Beyond a certain linear price point, most people can't tell the difference between one high-end amp and the next-- except for a few fanatics, who will pay an exponentially higher price for a tiny, incremental improvement in audio quality. There are $10,000-per-foot speaker cables you can buy which are filled with mercury, for example, not to mention a whole lot of more-or-less snake-oil-based products-- and the companies that sell those aren't anywhere near going out of business. But if you plot all the available devices on a linear price-vs-quality graph, you can generally get 90% of the quality for 10% of the price, and anything higher-priced is the domain of a rarefied few.

Gamers are 90th-percentilers. They know they have to be, because PC hardware becomes obsolete in months. They're not going to spend $10,000 on a uber-l33t gaming rig that they know will be a road apple within a year. Technology is still leapfrogging forward in the computer market, still in revolutionary mode, whereas in audio hardware the technology is in a strictly evolutionary phase . You can expect that your ultra-top-end amp that you bought in 1995 will still sound great, and you'll consider that money well spent. Not so with gamers.

It's that same law of diminishing returns, by the way, that also tends to hurt Apple. The Mac is priced linearly higher than a comparable PC, for what most users consider to be an insignificant advantage in usability and/or performance and/or quality. Gamers will usually shun Macs because they can get almost all the same functionality (and a lot more games besides) for a materially smaller price. This alone tells me that while yes, you'll probably be able to sell tube-amp-powered PC motherboards to audiophile computer users, it's probably wildly wrong to expect the gamer market to swarm all over these. Especially if they're priced commensurately with the typical high-end tube amp.

But maybe they'll find equilibrium. More power to 'em, I guess.

16:31 - A new kind of grim amusement

Something I sort of silently and casually did on and around the eleventh of March was to go back through the archives of various blogs and read the entries leading up to, during, and following the 9/11 attacks, on their six-month anniversary. Just to compare the tone... to see how far we've come... to see what was predicted that would happen, and what actually did... to see what opinions have changed.

To experience it all over again, too.

This link is to USS Clueless, which I only started reading after the event (I only found out about the existence of blogs in mid-December, thanks to a mention in a Bleat). But to give you some idea of just how much has changed, an entry by den Beste on or shortly after 9/11 mentions "a guy named James in Minneapolis".

It was only a few months ago that none of these guys knew each other. This whole weird, sometimes snarky, sometimes critical, often recursive and reciprocal extended family of blogdom in its current form and strength and cast of characters is less than a year old.

So are many of the opinions we hold now. Den Beste had an essay on terrorism that posited that the Palestinian cause was every bit as justified as any nation's is that is under attack, and with severe language he said that the Israeli government would have to use tactics of compromise and appeasement in order to have any measure of peace.

That's before we all saw the video of the Palestinians celebrating in the streets.

So, as you read through this archive, note the following landmarks:
  • The initial half-unbelieving, distant "Yeah, yeah, it's all over the news" kick-start, with the dark sense that it's going to get a lot worse
  • The first true realization of just how big this is
  • The first mention of Osama bin Laden
  • The first reactions to the Taliban's statements
  • The first predictions of war in Afghanistan and what form it will take
  • The first mention of the Palestinian strategic loss from 9/11
  • The first mention of Israel's vastly improved lot
  • The first exhortation to give blood
  • The first realization of how many rescue workers were in there
  • The first thoughts on Flight 93 and its passengers' rebellion
  • The first mention of NATO and the global implications of the attack
  • The first cries of "We deserved it" from self-effacing American liberals
  • The first head-shaking, tongue-clucking grandfatherly scoldings from European politicians
  • The first predictions of economic devastation and ruin
  • The first sighting of an exploitation of patriotic feeling for commercial gain
  • The first post after the fact that was not related to the attack

Look at how quickly these all happened. All within the space of about three days.

Three days of real-time reflection of real American sentiment. Whereas the Gulf was the CNN War, today we're engaged in the Blogger War. This one has a permanent record, realized and accessible at the common-citizen level. The immediacy of it is its strength-- it still feels like a glimpse into Everyman's day and Everyman's mind, not like a CNN broadcast. We (or those of us who were alive at the time) can look at the Zapruder film and think in abstract terms of where we were when it was being shot. But blogs make it as real as a recording of a voice.

I dare you to scroll upward past the early morning hours of the Eleventh without your heart starting to race uncontrollably.

One more milestone to note:
  • The first tears shed by the blogger.

11:40 - The Babel Fish Lives On


Here's an interview with Douglas Adams, from three or four years ago when he was still hanging around this unfashionable little planet (and when we thought The Hitch-Hiker's Guide was going to be released as a Disney movie in 2000). It's in American Atheist magazine, and it's a must-read for any DNA fans.

I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid” - then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.


Of course, this assumes a scientific thought process-- one that considers the burden of proof to be a valid concept, and one where arguments for the nature of faith ("Ah, but you see, that's what's so clever about it: There always has to be room for doubt, or else faith would mean nothing! That's why God didn't hand down the Ten Commandments on little titanium wallet-sized cards, even though he certainly could have!") are specious and silly. So this doesn't really forge any new ground on the matter.

But it does let us remember the guy fondly.
Sunday, June 2, 2002
01:44 - Spiwit, bwavado, and dewwing-do

I just saw Spirit tonight. And despite the worrisome marketing angle, despite the seemingly pandering nature, despite the fact that almost none of my animation-loving friends seem to have any inclination to see it, I really enjoyed it. It was all the things that I predicted it would have, when I posted about it a couple of weeks back.

Like all such things, it has its good and bad points.

Bad points:
  • Really atrocious song-soundtrack by Bryan Adams. Featureless, uninspired soft-pop-glop songs that dribble out one after another, they illustrate some of the emotion of various scenes (and act as a surrogate for elided dialogue), but if you heard these things on the radio you'd forget the damn thing was on. It wasn't sufficient that the Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions; he's clearly still a threat. Maybe war-crimes accusations are in order.
  • Slightly too many aaawwww moments for my taste... but then, this thing is marketed primarily at pre-teen girls, so I'll allow them this conceit. It'll probably actually be more bearable without said pre-teen girls squealing and cooing in the seats behind me throughout the whole movie.
  • I take some issue with the gratuitousness of the setting changes. Sorry, but you don't get to go from Yellowstone to Monument Valley to Yosemite on foot.
  • Similarly, how many horses does it take to drag a steam locomotive on sledge rails up a mountain? Would a 150-horsepower engine (like the one in my Jetta) be able to do the job? No, didn't think so.

Good points:
  • Outstanding animation, probably the best and most pleasing blend of "look" I've seen to date. Since all the characters are modeled in 3D before being rendered by hand in 2D, there's a lot of camera rotations and a lot of shots that would have been very expensive before; we've lost a little bit of sharp spontaneity in the decreased pure-2D, but what it makes up in directorial freedom is immeasurable.
  • Hans Zimmer's orchestral soundtrack is delicious. I think I'll have to pick this up on CD. God bless MP3 players and the ability to make playlists of just some tracks and not others.
  • Gorgeous backgrounds and set pieces. This is one of the most visually stunning animated features since The Iron Giant.
  • This is about the most dialogue-free animated feature I've ever seen. Most of the interaction between characters takes place in horse vocalizations and facial expressions, and it's done shockingly well. You think you wouldn't be able to tell when a horse is saying RUN? Trust me, you would.
  • The resolution of the "villain" plot is both innovative and supremely satisfying. It's the least trite ending that I've seen in a long time. Katzenberg should be very proud of having pulled it off the way he did.

As I'd hoped it would be, it's a paean to the art of animation and the visual backdrop of the American West, and any allegory that might be present in it is obscured by the purity of the character piece that forms the movie's backbone. There are some nods in vague, disparate directions to larger movie-type issues: the Noble Redman, the Heartless Bloodthirsty U.S. Cavalryman, the Relentless Manifest-Destiny Push West. It's got elements of that whole Dances With Wolves milieu that makes you shudder at the sight of the Stars and Stripes. But when that resolution comes at the end, and you see into all the characters' hearts in a blinding instant and understand all of their motives and values without a single word being spoken, you can do nothing but smile-- the Indians aren't perfect after all. The Cavalry are just trying to do a job. The railroads represent a great sacrifice on the part of the pristine wilderness, but what we buy with that sacrifice-- say those wordless gazes in that blinding instant-- is well worth it. Things change, says the movie. What's important is not that you stand firm against the very concept of something you don't like or even understand. What's important is making the most of what time we have, riding the waves of change, and helping to modulate them. You can't stop a rising tide, but through your actions you can help it be a good thing rather than a bad thing.

The feeling one is left with, upon exiting the theater, is that of the nature of legends: a hero can do great things in his lifetime, but it's only after he's died and the world has changed that the true power of his legend is realized. Likewise, the wilderness that plays such an active character role in Spirit is a legend, a myth-- but we never would have appreciated it to the degree that we do now if we had never lost it.

If the World Trade Center were still standing today, we'd still be giggling at the Klau Khalash vendor in the plaza and barely giving a glance upwards at the nondescript duoliths casting those huge shadows. But now, those buildings are raised to the level of myth. Memory and legend makes them greater than they ever were.

... Anyway. It's been a pretty good weekend, all considered. Babylon 5 movie marathon, DV editing, and emulated video games. It's a rest I needed.

Oh, and Lileks is proposing a Star Trek-style "odd movies good, even numbers bad" scheme for the Indiana Jones series.

12:58 - This isn't the time for goddamned aphorisms, either.

It was brought rather smugly to my attention recently that Patriotism is the belief that your country is better because you were born in it.

I would counter this by re-emphasizing that the biggest American patriots seem to be those who immigrated here.

Also, in the same conversation, I was directed to a Slovenian proverb that says People should sweep their own doorsteps first; the point being that we should concern ourselves with issues like the FBI extending their e-mail surveillance powers and so on before we start doing drastic things like bombing terrorist camps and anthrax factories.

But you know, you don't worry about sweeping your doorstep when the fucking house is on fire.

Yes, it sucks that the FBI can snoop my e-mail, and that Hollings wants us to burn our MP3 players and D-A converters, and that my car is due for a frickin' wheel rotation. But Jesus Christ, man, I think we're capable of prioritizing matters here. And I think we're capable of addressing more than one issue at a time.

11:57 - On the Burial of the WTC

Via Cold Fury, Pejman Yousefzadeh has a thoughtful and worthwhile post about the end of the WTC cleanup, the ceremony, and what America means to a first-generation citizen like himself.

I've always noticed that the fiercest defenders of something are always the most recent converts. Fiery young Muslim extremists come from Lindh-esque rallying for a cause. Mac zealots are easiest found among those who have just bought their first Mac. And the biggest US patriots, the ones who most clearly grasp America's founding ideals and hold them in higher regard than anyone else, seem to be the ones who have just become citizens themselves.

After all, to change one's nationality means a pretty drastic idealistic decision. Someone willing to make that decision will tend to have the force of conviction behind it.

I said in the past that I have a practice of viewing American society as an outsider. I have been an American all my life, but as a first-generation American, I cannot help but set myself apart at times, and view my country and my compatriots the way an outsider might. And I repeatedly find that Americans are a curious lot. Andrew Sullivan pointed out that we don't want to be bothered, really. We want to pursue this particular dream that we have, and we would like it if the world left us alone to pursue it. We don't particularly lust for an empire, or for hegemony--we take up the task of superpower out of a sense of obligation, not out of a desire to bestride the world like a Colossus. There is no song exhorting "Rule Americana." Many of us would be perfectly happy to be able to drop all of this superpower stuff, and take our society closer to the principles and ideals that bind us as a nation.

Then, something invariably intrudes on that dream. Something inevitably threatens those ideals. Something unfailingly presents itself as a mortal peril to America.

And almost immediately, this introspective American society turns to face that intrusion, that threat, that mortal peril, and wages a singleminded, passionate war to defeat it. The transformation in the national mood is akin to the transformation from night to day. Whether that war is fought with guns and tanks, or with stealth and diplomacy, it is fought by Americans with ardor, strength, intelligence and vigor. There are defeats, setbacks, botched schemes and foolish plans in the course of that war, but in the end, America ends up winning. Those who attack America and those who underestimate Americans, end up being astonished at the speed of America's response, annihilated by the ferocity of America's power, and ultimately aided by America's magnanimous generosity.

We don't like making war as a nation. And we despise it as individuals. Some people foolishly pronounce Americans as warlike. In the Blogosphere, we "warbloggers" have even been stupidly called "bloodthirsty" by those who just don't understand. No one I know covets a state of war. We would all prefer peace. Were I to find anyone who lusts for war, for war's sake alone, I would recommend their institutionalization--after I finish giving them a sound and deserved thrashing.

But we understand, especially on days like this, that we may have no choice. That there are enemies out in the world who wish nothing for us other than ultimate and absolute destruction. They will not be bought off, they cannot be negotiated with, they cannot be charmed or converted into being friends. They must be destroyed before they destroy more of us. No other way is possible. It is sad, regretful, and profoundly unfortunate that such a state of affairs exists. But exist it does. And we must face it.

I'm sick of America being critized for not being more involved in world affairs, and then reluctantly dragging itself into some provincial conflict that affects us not at all-- and then America gets criticized for playing "the world's policeman". Remember the Monroe Doctrine-- and pre-WWI isolationism? The dwarfs are for the dwarfs. But we got pulled into WWI to remember our friendship with our European allies, and WWII because we'd done so before. After WWII, it was expected that we'd do so every time. After all, we've got the biggest army anywhere, right? What could it possibly be for other than to defend the rest of the world against tyranny?

That's so cute... but it's wrong! The US Government exists to protect Americans, not to rule the world; and the US Army exists to defend our interests, not everybody else's who rubs their summon-the-Americans magic lamp.

And so it's mystifying to us to learn that Europeans have little sympathy for 9/11, because we didn't immediately leap to the defense of the thousands of victims of genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, or that we're not in force defending East Timor or Rwanda from their own civil wars. It's like we were sitting there quietly doing our homework, and then some professor calls up demanding to know why we didn't turn in our Underwater Basket-Weaving final. Huh? I don't remember signing up for Underwater Basket-Weaving.

And then when 9/11 happened, you know what? We didn't really expect sympathy either. We just expected people to get out of our way while we went and kicked the requisite amount of ass. We knew who was responsible, we knew what needed to be done about it. We expected Europe to realize that we might possibly have our wits about us, that we didn't need to consult them and get their unanimous approval before acting, allowing al Qaeda to plan their followup attack in the time we spent waiting. I humbly submit that bin Laden was banking on the US response being held up by European dithering, just as Churchill had thought that America would turn out to be ineffectual in WWII. (The full quote is at PejmanPundit; follow the link.) But we swooped right in, and that second blow never fell. Yes, I know it might still. But I'm certain that it would have already, if we had done nothing.

Those who look at 9/11 and say, "Yes, it's terrible, but..." inevitably have some argument about perspective, or moral equivalence, or the big picture, or some conspiracy theory about how the US just wants an excuse to bomb Saudi Arabia so we can take over the oil fields to shake their fingers at us over. Listen: bullshit. I realize you may consider it to be a liability that the US is strong enough to act quickly and decisively to protect its own interests, but you know, we consider it to be a virtue. And the fact that it works is a powerful argument against our changing our minds.

11:48 - A tired weekend...

No bloggage yesterday, I know-- I was helping someone move all day, and when I got home (and after spending about six hours having a slow, drawn-out dinner and talking with friends) I inexplicably felt compelled to play Secret of Mana on a Super NES emulator rather than to do any of the things I'd slated for this weekend:
  • Unpack from last weekend
  • DV-edit the footage from the Kinetic Sculpture Race and burn some DVDs
  • Address three pending art-theft reports
  • Add two new user accounts
  • Review and approve 200 fan-art uploads
  • Write some blog entries

Something tells me that I'm only going to get to the last of those today.

Oh, and because I also spent Friday and yesterday privately defending US policy in one of those recurring "You Americans never take any interest in the outside world, except to kill people... oh, and you need to become perfect and eradicate all your own problems before you are allowed to take any interest in the outside world" arguments that every blogger in the world seems to have taken part in lately. So if I blog today, it'll probably be along the lines of "USA A-OK!" Hope you don't mind terribly.
Friday, May 31, 2002
18:23 - The really important topics...

Steven den Beste is back from Vegas, and it would seem that he had himself a good time.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
01:01 - Oh yeah: Memorial Day Weekend.

Yeah, I know-- I'd promised to write this up on Monday night (well, I should say, I promised-- on Monday night-- to write this up on Tuesday). But I've been recovering all week, which involves more work than you might imagine. I haven't felt much like writing accounts of recent experiences, and I wouldn't be doing it now if it weren't for the nagging feeling that one more night of sleep will erase enough pieces of the narrative from my mind that the effort will become pointless. So, here goes.

Thursday night, Allison flew in to San Francisco from Boston. She's been here before, and so the oddities of this house didn't fluster her-- she had some choice things to say about the unacceptable state of our bathroom for use by persons of the female gender, but hey-- you don't like our daddy longlegs, feel free to roll the tanks and see if you can impose your multilateral political ideals on-- oh, wait. Sorry. She must have been saying "Eeeww", not "EU".

Anyway-- so we got up early on Friday, threw together our bags, I briefly pondered telling work that I wouldn't be in-- and we set out up I-280, the Most Beautiful Freeway in the World. (It says so right there on a sign.) It's the spiritual 101-- the freeway that should be 101. It parallels 101, but in the rural panorama that is the Peninsula, the undeveloped western slope-- following the San Andreas Fault-- of the same spine of hills that on their eastern side houses half the suburban population of the Bay Area. It's always amazed me that so much city population and industry could exist so close to so much wide open space and picturesque beauty, but hey-- that's the Bay for you. And anyway, for the rest of the trip we'd be on 101 in its trek north of the Bay, so I figured we should follow its coastal mountainous path for its entire environmental gradient along the 350-mile course.

So we rolled into San Francisco at about 10AM-- but not before Allison spied a Krispy Kreme perched behind a retaining wall some 30 feet above the freeway. She all but grabbed the steering wheel, and I had to cross eight lanes just to miss the last exit in the neighborhood before being shunted off to the cross-town freeway spur which doesn't have another exit for five miles. So we trundled down into the heard of The City, turned around, got off at the appropriate exit, turned onto a street adjoining the Krispy Kreme, got ready to turn left into the parking lot-- and there was a three-inch-high barricade erected specifically to prevent exactly that. Aaauugh! Okay, so I keep going straight (which takes me over the freeway). I try to turn around, but there's a NO U TURN sign. At the next light it's a one-way street going right. I have to travel three blocks before I can edge my way around the security cameras that I'm sure are watching my every move and get going in the opposite direction. (Allison told me that in Boston, one would simply ka-CHUNK-ka-THUMP over the barricade and be done with it.) So we park tiredly in the lot, go up to the big double doors facing us, and... EXIT ONLY.

I don't know what gods we angered that day, but they were assholes.

Anyway, they were pulling the ol' bait-and-switch inside-- giving out free donuts to entice customers (who are already standing in line) to buy more donuts. Allison just wanted the one, and I waved away the smiling offer of a second one with what must have been a stomach-turning grimace (my nostrils and digestive system will forever rebel against the very concept of eating pastry, and just to be inside that store was making me distinctly nauseous). But she wondered, what are you supposed to do if you just want one donut? Take the free one and leave? Naw, the lady was too nice and kindly and smiling, though her English skills seemed too rusty for her to comprehend my not wanting a donut, my GAWD get that frickin' thing away from me. So Allison bought a dozen... somethings. I have no idea what. The box stayed closed while it was in my car. That was all I cared about.

Anyway, it was 10:45 by the time we got to Taraval and John's new ticky-tacky house, which costs him and his three roommates $2100/month and involves a huge kitchen, three bedrooms (one with a view out over the city and a big patio, another with a gigantic closet bigger than a Caltech single), two big ornately tiled bathrooms, a living room, a fireplace, and a waist-high "Alice in Wonderland" door halfway up the interior staircase for God-knows-what. I want a house like that. And not just because every room had a Mac in it, either.

We said hello to Mic (a former fellow Mole who seems to be part of this crew in the post-Tech world) and took our leave, after hearing John demonstrate his dexterity on the harpsichord he has. (Yeah.) Off we flew, northward, through the City, over the Golden Gate in the clear sunlight, through Marin, through Sonoma, through Cloverdale and the Russian River canyon, and through Ukiah and down into Redwood Valley, where (at my old house) we stopped for taquitos and the grand tour of the walls and possessions that defined my childhood.

I applaud Allison and John for having the superhuman patience to withstand it all.

Leaving the Wine Country behind, we headed up into the mountains, where (after Willits) the landscape suddenly changes to Coast Redwoods mode-- lofty rolling ridges covered with dark woodsy robes, and the winding Eel River cleaving a deep canyon through them. Three hours of driving, past Laytonville and Garberville and Leggett and Myers Flat, into increasingly dense hippie country (the coastline-hugging Highway 1 ducks inward at Leggett to avoid the Lost Coast, a jumble of 4,000-foot mountains that vault out of the sea so steeply that even Hwy 1 can't cling to the face-- but in the canyons of which reside the densest pockets of hippie culture that survive today, happily swapping tales and evolving into their own sub-species), to finally emerge into the flat expanse of Humboldt Bay.

Past the pulp-mill smells of Eureka, which has always seemed to me to be rather like an abandoned fishing village that was frozen in the 50s and was repopulated by a band of Biosphere scientists determined to make a go of it, and up through the strictly monitored 50mph Safety Corridor that skirts the harbor's edge, you get to Arcata. This little hamlet is what you get if you take San Francisco, import it into iPhoto, and jam the little scaling slider about 3/4 of the way to the left. The town is all built on hills, and parking involves lots of wheel-turning-- but the houses are tiny little carriage-bungalows surrounded by lush greenery, laid out on a grid of number-streets-versus-letter-streets in blocks no more than two or three houses long. Something that's "two blocks away" really means "shouting distance". And fortunately, that includes everything a 21st-century hippie needs: a strict organic supermarket (with a superb deli counter), the center of subsistence known as the CO-OP, a Mexican bagel place called "Los Bagels", an outstanding Japanese restaurant, lots and lots of bookstores, hippie supply stores, folk-singing coffee shops, and the Town Square with its statue of William McKinley. All of it is two blocks away from everything else. Shouting distance.

We found our way to the inclined doorstep of Branden, a gangly friend of John's with a gigantic orange beard and a BSD Daemon hat. He was a gracious host, and showed us into his house-- which consisted of two sparsely furnished existence rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The front room had a giant shapeless aluminum-foil sculpture over the light fixture, made from the wrappers from pieces of pizza from the Pizza Deli two blocks away. There were letter-size pieces of blue paper pasted all over the ceiling, and in the corner was a hook with a glass jug hanging from it, inside which was a bone. When pressed for explanation, Branden explained that the paper on the ceiling was "Pieces of blue paper on the ceiling, in a carefully random pattern", and that the story with the hook was "There's a glass jug hanging from it. There's a bone in it."

He also had a number of plants growing in his kitchen-- none of which, indeed, was a controlled substance. And there were bizarre photos of worldly items of interest coating the walls, many of which somehow involved squids, and a lonely futon in the corner.

After we set up an impromptu network involving my iBook, Branden's iBook, John's Linux Vaio, and the single-IP-address 802.11 network being beamed from an antenna at the top of a building in the Town Square two blocks away, we went down to the Pizza Deli for dinner. (We'd picked up Edward, another friend of John's, along the way-- a pleasant chap with many engaging stories about his piratical travels on the Seven Seas in a 50-foot sailboat with his parents during his teen years.) After downing our enormous sandwiches (they make a mean roast-beef-and-cheddar up there in Fog Town), we went for a wander about the town. I noticed the charming epithetical nickname for Arcata espoused by so many storefronts: Northtown. It sounds like a town from some 80s Squaresoft video game, doesn't it? Welcome to Empire Northtown. Eyes of skull has a secret!

Our wanderings took us a distance of two blocks, where we found ourselves shivering in our shorts and t-shirts (having come from the heat of Silicon Valley earlier in the day-- yay, microclimates!) in front of a quaint little Finnish coffee shop. Inside the room was no bigger than a hundred square feet, but I swear two dozen people were crammed inside there, sprawling over chairs and tables, sipping mochas and lattés and reading thick paperback books and listening to a Celtic chamber group play their energetic, haunting music while surrounded by the hot crush of humanity that caused all of our glasses to fog up instantly as we came in the door.

We all got drinks of various stripes and went out back, where tables and chairs nestled under redwood trees next to a frog pond and several sauna cabins. (Apparently this place was more than just a coffee shop.) We sipped and talked and laughed and became acquainted, and it was well past midnight before we got up and hiked the two blocks back to Branden's house and sprawled in our sleeping backs on the floor.

Sometime in the night, ODie and the remainder of the crew from Caltech arrived. And in the morning, we awoke with the knowledge that the Kinetic Sculpture Race was to begin today at noon! We hopped out of bed, ate some pancakes, and headed down to the Square for a look at the early risers among the Sculptures. There were a dozen or so already there-- in among a crush of at least a hundred onlookers, at 9AM. I took in some video, and we gathered our troops together. We waited. Before we knew it, the flatbed truck had pulled up to the starting line, and the announcer was peppering out his introductory schpiel. The vehicles began their brake tests. The Rutabaga Queen gave her speech. The Nefarious Rissouli made some ominous statements. The tuxedoed officials mocked the sculptures and their ability to stop on a dime, which indeed few could. Hobart, the Glorious Founder, said a few words-- as did the winner of the first KSR, 34 years ago, who mentioned that they'd rigged up a cannon for the starting signal.

We headed back to the room to change clothes and slather ourselves with sunscreen, and we hiked the two blocks back to the starting line (a few hundred yards down it, this time, rather than in the square itself) just before noon. I was taping it all, but I managed to miss the cannon going off, more's the pity. But nonetheless, the sculptures-- ungainly, elaborate, sleek, monstrous, lithe, overbearing, artistic, uproarious-- clanked and clattered and whirred past the hundreds and hundreds of people who were gathered on the streets to see them off.

A word is in order: The KSR is such a huge event in the region that the whole year revolves around it. Three cities back it-- Arcata, Eureka, and Ferndale-- and everybody in all three towns loves it, except for a few disgruntled farmers who seem to have a problem with hundreds of Glorious Spectators tramping across their land. Reportedly, one such homesteader went out to a spectator access path and dumped about 1,000 pounds of fresh manure in the middle of it since the trail was staked out on Friday. He also reportedly threatened to shoot any spectators who set foot on his land. Also reportedly, he mouthed off to the wrong person, and the cops came and put his ass in jail for the weekend. If you live in the Eureka area, you do not dis the Race.

SO ANYWAY: You may want to review the KSR Rules or the Course Map in order to get some idea of the scope and the texture of this Race. The first order of business, after we'd all fought with the entire population of all three towns for deli sandwiches at the grocery store (every other restaurant in Arcata had a line twenty deep lined up outside the front door right after noon), was to head down to the dunes at the edge of the Bay, the first big obstacle for the Sculptures. On the way into the dunes, kids with catapults pelt the passing machines with water balloons. Hey, it's just another part of the course! And after they all trundle their way into the dunes (which we missed), you have to get to the end of the dune segment, which is Dead Man's Drop-- a long, tall dune right at the edge of solid land (and mosquitoes-as-big-as-vampire-bats country) down which all the scupltures must travel intact.

Watching all 37 machines negotiate the slope was an all-afternoon affair, but the community spirit was something else again. Hundreds of people and dozens of dogs were clustered all over the dunes, cheering and clapping and hooting and laughing all day, mosquitoes or no. And only one machine-- the first one down the hill-- took a fall. Even the giant steel Rhino made it down intact-- though it did plow into the trees at the bottom and had to be forcibly fished out.

We ate en masse at the Japanese restaurant on the Town Square, and then retired (after a trip to the liquor store) to the house for a long evening of atmospheric music from my iPod, weird RPG/board games, reminiscence of Tech, and single-malt whiskey and mead (I'm told it was very funky). By the time we all collapsed from exhaustion, around 2AM, we had all recaptured a bonhomie that had never existed when we were all students and trying to prove our academic prowess to each other. Now we were all living life on our own terms, and there was more respect all around because of it.

Well, that's what I saw. Some others had certain problems with the interpersonal politics, but that's not what my sensors are equipped to detect.

In the morning, though, while the rest of the group was to wake up late and spend the day lounging around the house and missing the second day of the KSR altogether, I was to shift a gear. Rising at 9:00, I hopped in my car and drove the 150 miles back down through the mountains to Redwood Valley (for lunch and a rest in the air I grew up with) and to Ukiah, where an untidy clan of former Ukiahi Marching Band members was gathering.

Have you ever seen Mr. Holland's Opus? That's what my high school experience was like. Our band director, Rowland Nielson, retired after my senior year, taking with him a thirty-year career and a marching-band tradition that had upheld a standard of championship performances for decades. When Rowland retired, our black tuxedo-like uniforms with their gold overlays and our tall fur shakos went into cold storage, and a halfhearted jazz band took its place at the high school. There was no funding to support such a monstrously expensive program as a marching band, even if the director who succeeded Rowland had wanted to. But now, eight years later, the new young fiery director wants to bring the marching band back-- and so the tactic is to create an Alumni Marching Band, made up of all those band geeks who loved the fact that at Ukiahi, the band was the most admired organization on campus (hell, the football team was an embarrassment, and the marching band consistently brought home huge trophies). We would march in the Memorial Day parade, and the whole town would be stirred by a performance they hadn't seen or heard since 1994.

The rehearsal on Sunday evening went very well. The music was easy, and we all were startled to discover that we still had Wildcat Victory memorized. I hadn't touched my clarinet since 1996, and I'd had to make impromptu repairs of its disintegrated pads with rolls of taped toilet paper, but within an hour or two of practice I was playing with the same proficiency that I'd had as an 18-year-old. It'd amazing how some things never leave you.

Speaking of which, Rowland was the same as ever. His hair was a little whiter, but he still barked at us for chewing gum, and it nearly brought tears to our eyes.

Oh, and as always, we had an inordinate number of flute players-- nine or ten of them, out of about 40 alumni altogether. And they all giggled and chattered incessantly, as though they were still teenagers.

The motley group was full of 30- and 40-year olds, many of whom had become rather portly and/or motherly, and what I'd remembered as a group of kids with their whole lives ahead of them now had facial wrinkles and made Viagra jokes. But there were still tongue studs to be found, if you knew where to look. My second-grade teacher, now 51, was a majorette, twirling her battered old baton with an ease that made a mockery of the 34 years it had been. And one band member, who was now an award-winning band instructor himself, was playing the cymbals.

The following morning dawned with bright sunshine and cloying heat, and I spackled on the SPF 45 like I didn't care that I had bought it in Canada and probably wouldn't be able to get stuff of that strength here in the States. (45-- what, is that metric?) But by the time we had all gathered in front of the Ukiah Civic Center for some photos in our new purple Alumni band t-shirts and baseball caps, a thin cloud cover had rolled in and deadened the most worry-inducing of the rays. And before we knew it, we were lined up behind the California Conservation Corps van and a troop of Boy Scouts, and we were off down School Street, our two international-award-winning drum majors spinning their maces in tandem and sending them higher than the tops of the downtown 2-story storefronts, and our drum cadence-- with its intoxicating interleaved rim-taps and tri-tom exhortations and the insistent drive of the snares and the cymbals-- starting out uncertain, but gathering strength as we all remembered being there, doing that, ten or twenty years before, in city after city all over the state. It was ten years ago, twenty years ago. Our parents were all out there watching, just like before, no matter how old we were or how many Viagra we had in our pockets. By the time we turned the corner onto State Street next to the Palace Hotel and the drum cadence reached the point where the whole band had traditionally let out an unexpected whoop, many of our eyes were streaming as we let it rip.

We played through Wildcat Victory over and over, and You're a Grand Old Flag, and America the Beautiful, not caring how loose and fatigued our embouchures were getting, or how sloppy our marching. The crowds on the sidelines were going nuts as we passed. We remembered how at the rehearsal the night before, we had marched further down Despina Drive than we ever had back in the day-- we'd always turned back while we were still parallel to the football field, before heading into the adjoining residential area. This time, we'd gone past those first few houses before turning around-- and the residents came out on the lawn to watch, and to express with astonished delight that they'd never been able to see the band in the earlier years, and they'd thought they'd missed us forever-- and now, look! Here we are!

We squeezed in formation into the parking lot behind the District Office, the drum major barked out a BAND! To atten-HUT! and we exploded back, SIR!... and then, BAND! ...DisMISSED!

And oh, how the whoops and the cheers did ensue.

His little speech to us all as we gathered around was clumsy and choked with sweat as much as with emotion, but we all knew what he was trying to say. We'd done what we had set out to do. And it wasn't an ending to an era that had never really resolved itself; it was a new opening to a book that should never have been closed. We all shuttled back to our cars knowing that we'd be back next year, and the next, and as long as it took.

I caught up with my parents, drove my mom home, filled up on gas, got some lunch at the Redwood Valley burrito place, and once more embarked on the road north.

I ARRIVED in Ferndale at about 3:00, just when I'd hoped I would-- just in time to catch the last five or six finishers as they huffed and puffed their way down the main street across the mobbed finish line. Lots of machines had already finished, and a light-to-moderate rain that had materialized out of the wispy cloud cover that had protected us earlier in the day was soaking the streets, but the Race was finishing itself up in fine style. I met up with John and Allison and Branden and Erik as they finished a late lunch, and we went into the KSR Museum there near the traditional finish line to see some great and legendary Kinetic Sculptures of the past. Some of them, like the Quagmire Queen, were eye-popping in their size and their engineering. I got them all on video.

After a quick run back up to Arcata to pick up the iBook power supply that I'd managed to leave under the futon, I started back southward with Allison and John and Erik in tow. We reached Redwood Valley around 8:30, as the sun was setting, and we sat around my parents' living room telling the tales of our respective weekends. I picked up my Pizza Ettica, and we trundled off to the sounds of our stomachs growling for In-N-Out, which we reached in Rohnert Park after 10:00. Another hour and we were back on Taraval, and John was returned safely to his nest, along with Erik; one hour more and we were back in San Jose, and sleep ensued soon afterwards.

I was up early one more time on Tuesday morning, to take Allison back up to SFO-- not a brief drive by any stretch, but compared to the eleven hours of driving I'd done on Monday, and the four traversals of the Ukiah-to-Eureka run and the two passages of Ukiah-to-San Jose, it was barely noteworthy at all-- except that I put off showering or even changing until after I got home. (I'd slept on the couch in my marching band clothes.) So Tuesday at work was consumed mostly in bleary hunting-and-pecking through e-mail, and I slept extremely well that night.

Now, I've just finished importing the hour of DV footage from the KSR, and I'll have it iMovied and burned onto a DVD probably by the end of the weekend. And that's all the more likely now that I've got this blog entry out of the way. You know how it feels-- once you've accomplished something that you'd considered really daunting (hey, and rightly so, I humbly submit), you feel like you can accomplish anything.

Although right now the only thing I really feel like accomplishing is breaking some kind of world record for the quickness of falling asleep while draped out a window into the cool night breeze.

Late May. Memorial Day always brings such heat to this little microclimate.

Just another day out of the year, I guess. But while we might not usually get very hung up about the actual meaning of the holiday, we certainly know how to celebrate the spirit of the ideals which it purports to defend, don't we?

00:23 - Poor, poor Outlook users...

Yesterday's Something Awful was good-- the lead story was all about the Klez worm and the wonders of ubiquitous software that's designed and implemented so eye-explodingly badly (sorry, had to borrow one of SA's favorite terms) and deployed to so many innocent and uncomprehending end-users that even if Microsoft did discover and fix a significant number of the security holes in Outlook, 85% of the Windows/Outlook users in the world (which is to say, millions and millions and millions of them) will never download the fixed version. Hey, Bill-- guess what! You wanted "a computer on every desk"? Well, congratulations! Now everybody on Earth has one-- and they all use Outlook, and they don't have the faintest idea how to upgrade it, even if they knew they were supposed to!

I don't think it will surprise anybody when I reveal that the worm thrives on one of the approximately five gazillion vulnerabilities of Microsoft Outlook, a program that was apparently coded in six hours by two guys who move furniture for a living. It doesn't matter to Microsoft that their mail program is one of the most widely used email clients in the universe; they are undoubtedly too busy praying to the god of their choice that somebody somewhere will make a good game for the X-Box or Bill Gates will discover how to travel back in time and decide to allocate resources to a better profit-generating product than the X-Box, such as "Microsoft Bob XP." Now I don't want to get all you console nerds out there in a fit over poking fun at the X-Box because I know how much you cretins love to write 15-page flame messages explaining why the game system of your choice is better than Jesus Himself. I don't care for playing games on the X-Box, Gamecube, PS2, or PC. I don't play games much these days except cat and mouse games where the hunter becomes the hunted and nothing is what it seems and he's a good cop gone bad, framed for a crime he didn't commit and is now out for revenge, out for justice, out for lunch.

It used to baffle my mind how Microsoft didn't give a flying donut about patching up their email client to contain less holes than an average Israeli child. It's not like Outlook and Outlook Express are two tiny programs that nobody uses; these are major applications that are installed in like 126% of the population's computers. While us Windows / Outlook chumps sit here and delete spoofed Klez worms all day like a crazed duck pecking at, uh, a piece of bread that looks like the "delete" key, the Mac and Linux weirdos are undoubtedly sitting comfortably in their very, very, very large load-balancing chairs and proclaiming their OS's superiority to Microsoft Windows. That's all fine and good by me, however I'd like to point out one little fact: neither Mac or Linux can run MS Paint. Point, match, and checkmate, inferior operating systems!

There, there. It's not so bad. (Not so bad? You fail everything except animation!)

Though I can't help but point out that even Lowtax doesn't seem to consider USING SOME E-MAIL PROGRAM OTHER THAN OUTLOOK.

Even those crusaders for computing sanity seem unable to apprehend this immediate, obvious solution. Or is it obvious to nobody else but me?

18:27 - It is with a heavy heart that we raise the scaffold...

I'm going to have to pay closer attention to Cold Fury, because without it I would have missed this article by Jamie Glazov, from which I'll quote a few paragraphs that I hope will not dissuade readers from going and reading the whole thing.

The problem here, therefore, is that Islam is inherently oppressive and violent. Yes, I know about all of those verses here and there in the Koran that talk about peace and love. Very heart warming indeed.

But the problem is that Islam forbids the separation of Church and State (Surah 2:193), as well as the right of dissent (Surah 4:59). And that is what Sharia Law, the religious law of Islam, holds in place. It makes no distinction between spiritual and temporal life. In other words, it covers not only ritual, but every aspect of life. In so doing, it makes sure to dish out severe punishments for any transgression of the rules.

It is obvious, therefore, that the very notion of Islam allowing democracy is simply ludicrous. If this occurred, then a majority of people might just decide that women don’t need to wear veils and that starting an official opposition party to the established Islamic structure is a good idea.

In these circumstances, how long do you think Islam would remain Islam?

And Mike's response:

A while back, I wrote a column-length piece about whether or not the war on terror could truly be said to be a war on Islam itself. I was pretty reticent at that time about the proposition of making war on an entire religion and not just its fundamentalist crazies - the libertarian in me simply abhors the idea of denying anyone's right to worship whatever the hell they want to worship, no matter how ass-backwards and intellectually disjointed their beliefs might seem to me. I said at the time that what the world most needed to hear from Muslims everywhere was a blanket condemnation of terrorism as a means of pursuing any political goal whatsoever, a no-nonsense and unequivocal expression of outrage over the hijacking of their religion by their so-called brothers; that the intentional targeting of innocents was wrong at all times and in all circumstances.

Well, the world has waited in vain for that denunciation. What we've gotten has been flaccid apologia, always coupled with the usual rationalizations and moral-equivalency arguments, and even so discouraging a response as that has been somewhat exceptional. The silence from Muslims in the face of suicide bombings in Israel and continued threats of terrorism elsewhere actually speaks volumes, and I find myself less and less willing to make excuses for it.

Now, only now-- months after 9/11, and years and decades after Islamic terrorism first became a global issue-- are people starting to put out the first careful feelers into the waters of scholarly criticism of a major religion or culture. See, ever since World War II, the world-- well, particularly America-- has shied away so violently from any kind of blanket criticism of any people or its customs that now we're deathly afraid to say anything bad about a culture which has repeatedly demonstrated that such criticisms are valid.

The Jews always used to be the whipping boys of the world-- right up until Hitler. After the concentration camps were opened, we were so horrified as an "enlightened" world that such a thing could have happened that we supported Israel's colonization and war efforts, desperate to prove that we were the antithesis of Nazi anti-semitism. And then it branched out. We launched and carried out complete broad-based civil rights movements for blacks and for women. We vehemently opposed our own military actions in Vietnam. We made movies and wrote history books that glorified Native American cultures, and an entire "New Age" subculture of rejection of modern convenience and the upholding of indigenous peoples throughout history and all over the world was born. We discovered fusion music. We watched PBS and Discovery Channel series. We all but exterminated the KKK. We created "affirmative action" in universities. We invented a new term: Political Correctness.

It's been a fifty-year backlash, and we're still discovering new ways to compensate for the global cultural guilt we feel for what the Nazis did.

So now, after the Twin Towers have fallen in a monstrous fireball and plume of smoke and ash that rose to the heavens for an entire month, and after our embassies have been blown up and our ships have been attacked in their harbors and our planes have been hijacked and our interests have been threatened all over the world with still more and greater destruction, we are still loath to consider criticizing the culture that every single one of these attacks has come from.

We're deathly afraid of saying "Down with Islam", lest someone make political cartoons showing the American flag with a swastika in place of the stars.

What is wrong with this picture? For thousands of years the Jews have been universally hated by almost every culture on earth, and it's only in the latter part of this century that they've finally gotten a break-- only to have the fight continue to be brought to their doorstep in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today. But why? Never in history have the Jewish people ever been demonstrated to be guilty of any transgressions against other cultures beyond vague grumblings about how they "control the media" and "control the stock market" and "killed Jesus". Where in history is the Jewish-led conflagration that has justified their being persecuted and tarred with blood-libel and blamed for every kind of evil straight on through to the present day? Where is their historical 9/11? Where is the Holocaust that they perpetrated against their neighbors? Hell, even Germany has been forgiven for Hitler a scant fifty years later, and is again a leading world power. Whence this implacable, unquestioned hatred for the Hebrew race?

And yet, even after it's been demonstrated that Islam-- the vociferous but impotent protests of its blog-reading adherents notwithstanding-- is by its very nature incompatible with any other world than one in which it is all-encompassing and totalitarian and tyrannical, we still can't bring ourselves to utter any of the same criticisms about it that anybody in the pre-WWII world ever uttered about the Jews or any other downtrodden scapegoat race.

After all, the Jews have in fact been scapegoats: a convenient entity on which to blame things, whether deserved or not. But the Islamofascists aren't scapegoats, because they are responsible for the terrorism they continue to threaten.

It's wrong to stereotype, we're now taught from birth. Never say such things as They're evil or They're a dangerous race or Kill 'em all. No, we still try to find the good in Islam. We admire their architecture, we laud their medieval mathematical achievements, we write term papers about the life of the Prophet and the terror and injustice of the Crusades. We desperately comb through the Koran to see for ourselves what a peaceful, gentle, freedom-loving, self-confident religion the true Islam is.

And how horrified we are to discover that it's nothing of the sort.

Is it time, finally, to admit that there is some evil in the world that does not lie within the hearts of isolated, individual madmen? Can we conclude that an entire major religion fits the definition of "evil" just as well as any fantastical Dark Lord ever did?

Have fifty years of mounting political correctness softened us too much, or do we have the sack to stand up and declare war on a corrupt people?

And if not, how many more September Elevenths will it take before we can?

Oh, and if anyone disagrees with these statements that there's something rotten in the state of Islam, then I'd like to hear a good, plausible explanation for why the Islamic Council of Victoria wants to stop people from quoting the Koran on the grounds that it makes Islam look bad.

15:14 - On Digital Film & Projectors

Paul Summers has some comments (gee, how did I know he would?) on the digital-film post from earlier:

Just fwiw... there are arguments for and against digital projection, but you shouldn't use star wars as a baseline. It was shot in digital, and then rolled out to film, thus producing a slightly grainy and fuzzy image compared to what real film is like.

It's not so much that digital projection is better, it is however at a significant advantage in this case as everything was filmed in DVCAM.

Pound for pound, I'll put digital up against film any day, and film will still have a better tone, higher resolution, and allows for many things that digital just can't do yet. That's the reason Spielberg has said he'll be the last person to shoot in digitial. Unfortunately, it requires a stupidly expensive projector and a very new reel to make the 'flicker' and such become un-noticeable. What I'd love to see is an overhaul of the very old 35mm format, to either double it's frame rate, double the frame size, and replace all of the audio information with timecode, which could be used to control a digital audio solution.

Case in point, no one ever notices flicker on IMAX films, because they're moving at twice the frame rate, have 6x the resolution, and are generally projected on much better equipment. :)

I have nothing to add to this. Just for the information of all those fascinated parties...

10:50 - Oh, my. We seem to have made a slight miscalculation.

Four of us went out and saw Star Wars last night in one of those digital-projection theaters-- and I must say that digital projection does indeed look like the way to go.

The picture isn't necessarily any sharper (they do still have to get it focused just right). But the big benefit, at least as far as I was able to see, was no flicker. The human eye is supposed to stop being able to track changes in input any faster than about 60-75Hz, which is why screen resolutions on analog monitors try to get above that boundary. At 24 fps, the eye definitely sees flicker-- which is how film works, actually (all that after-image stuff).

On a full-size digital-projection screen, though, there's no need for film advancement frames, no need for afterimages, no need for refresh rates. The image input simply changes for each new frame of video. and the result is a rock-steady picture, one that's gorgeous to look at. I loved every second of it. Lance said he could still see some R-G-B pixel variation in some wide smooth color areas, but I wasn't looking that closely for something to complain about. (Just kidding, Lance.)

Anyway, I noticed something this time through, a new plot hole that for some reason had eluded me before. And that is the droids. They are going to have to pull some fast-ass shit in Episode III to work this out-- and if they can do it in a way that's plausible, I'll never doubt Lucas again. To wit:

I was willing all along to accept that C-3PO was going to have to lose his memory somewhere along the line, so as to forget having been built by Darth Vader. Hey, that's fine-- whatever it is that gets him his gold skin probably just reboots his brain or something. And Artoo never says anything intelligible anyway, so now we'd have an explanation for why he always seemed so sure of where he was headed on Tatooine in Episode IV. But...

Now, what about Owen and Beru? Somewhere between Episodes II and IV, they're going to have to somehow lose track of the fact that they once owned C-3PO, so that Owen can buy him from the Jawas.

I can buy the whole reboot-the-brain thing. But now, what-- is Owen going to have to get amnesia? Or is he colorblind and unable to make the connection between the gun-metal-gray 3PO and the gold 3PO? Or is he just really stupid? I suppose he sort of looks the part. But it looks to me as though Lucas has painted himself rather badly into a corner.

Either Episode III is going to have to focus inordinately much on whatever story ties all these loose ends with the droids together, or Lucas is just going to have to punt and hope nobody really minds how little sense it makes. Because after all, even if Episode III does somehow manage to come up with a plausible solution, there's still no satisfying resolution in Episode VI to whatever "amnesia" plot-devices get brought in. C-3PO never remembers being built by Vader. Artoo never uses his little hover-rockets again. That whole plot-line just sort of fades away and gets more confusing if you watch the movies in episodic order. (To say nothing of how the moment Artoo pushes him off that ledge in the droid works, 3PO transforms instantly from the fussbudgety but erudite character we all know into a blithering one-liner-spewing piece of inept slapstick comic-relief.)

Lucas obviously hadn't ever considered Artoo's and 3PO's origins back when he was making the first three movies. And now he's inserted an unresolvable twist into the timeline that violates the Temporal Prime Directive no matter what galaxy you're in.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
20:11 - What is it, fluoridated water?

NY Times Foreign Affairs Columnist Tom Friedman (who will be picking up a Pulitzer tomorrow for his post-9/11 columns) was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross tonight. He made an offhand comment, speaking of Yasser Arafat's advancing age, about what must be marketable as the "Dictator's Diet":

What is it with these guys? Arafat, Hussein, Castro-- what, they all smoke, they eat yogurt, they take naps in the afternoon-- what? Here I am, watching my cholesterol, and they just keep going and going...!

Upon which Terry suggested that she should invite them all to be on a future show, so we can all find out.

Friedman also noted a recent feature of Israeli politics: according to polls, there's a significant majority in the Israeli populace-- like 60, 70, 80 percent-- who are united on two points:
  • As long as the suicide bombings continue, the Israeli people will absolutely support crushing those responsible with tanks or bombs or whatever the hell is necessary.
  • The instant that the suicide bombings stop, the Israeli people will absolutely accept the Saudi peace deal-- or any peace deal that involves a two-state solution and an end to the conflict.

The myth that the Palestinians have been entertaining is that the Israelis are just a bunch of overfed, soft, Silicon-Valley-esque yuppies and wimps who care only for their stock options and their new BMWs; that if the Palestinians are willing to sacrifice all they have to give, even their children, they can drive the Israelis out of the country and into the sea.

It seems that, like the Americans, yes, the Israelis like to pursue wealth and personal achievement. But where the myth falls down is in assuming that the Israelis won't drop their pizzas and pick up AK-47s if that's what it will take for them to be able to get back to their lives and go about their business without having to worry about raving madmen blowing them up.

Note to Islamic terrorists: screw your frickin' ideals. The rest of the world has learned what being human is all about-- namely, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-- and you might like it too if you gave it a chance.

19:26 - Bring It

Oh, this is good. Jonah Goldberg offers some realistic, if flippant (and highly entertaining), thoughts on just what would happen if the entire Islamic world did in fact decide to rise up in global holy jihad against the infidels.

Conclusion: There wouldn't be any more Islamic world. And Goldberg doesn't even play the "lob a Patriot missile into the Ka'aba" card, which shows significant restraint.

I wonder whether any of the Islamic Wackos of the world have it in them to read this article and seriously think about its implications?

Or are they all going to suddenly pull off their beards and turbans in a year or two, point, laugh, and say, "Ha ha! We sure had you going there, didn't we? You thought we actually believed all that stuff! Great Allah! We were just trying to get you to see how seriously you all take yourselves! Look at you! You treat the loss of 3,000 civilians like it's the end of the world! You believed we were all ready to drive you into the sea! What a bunch of morons you Americans are! Now let's go order us some pizzas, huh?"

13:34 - Speaking of McDonalds and Coca-Cola...

I was just thinking-- wouldn't it be bizarre to be the VP in charge of international expansion at one of these hated bastions of capitalism?

What must it be like to know that the product you make or the company you represent-- and the policies over which you yourself have control-- are symbols burning in the minds of the 19 who flew the planes in September and their compatriots who continue to skulk in Paktia?

What would you do if you were handed a proposal from your field research teams discussing the opportunities for expansion of McDonald's into Saudi Arabia or Iran?

At the "World of Coca-Cola" museum in Atlanta, which I visited (by chance) in the week following 9/11, they had a movie proudly showing all the different countries into which the Coca-Cola Company sells its products, and all the different ways the bottles and cans get to the smiling faces of the people-- by rickety van, by river punt, by bicycle cart, by rickshaw, by towering backpack. The crowds of villagers would always come running and swarm in a cheering, ecstatic mass as the Coke arrived. They would all down their bottles of carbonated sugar syrup with the relish of wanderers in the desert who had just crested a dune and stumbled into a suburban swimming pool.

Perhaps reveling in the global ubiquity of American brands, seeing the happy third-world consumption of our exported hip culture, is not quite the heartwarming Sunday family event anymore that it always has been. I know it felt awfully weird to me, that mid-September day.

I'd say it must be even less fun to be the person in charge of finding new cultures into which to insert our memes than it is to be President right now. And if it were up to me to sign a paper which would probably net the Company an extra few percent of revenue each year, but that would give the Islamic terrorists that much more reason to resent our success in their own backyards-- well, I'd make myself a flaming paper airplane.

I'm not against globalization. I think McDonald's is a fine thing to have in Afghanistan and Sudan, if the people want it there. (If they don't, maybe they shouldn't be clamoring for it to come there, then.) What McDonald's lacks in soul it makes up in the ability to provide cheap, clean food to a population that doesn't necessarily have a guarantee of those things.

I just think the roles of these companies in directly influencing world affairs and the motivations of our enemies isn't getting a whole lot of play in the public eye these days, and perhaps it should.

13:14 - We're all doomed! Dooooomed! To succeed!

Back in high school, I was all about overpopulation. I'd just learned geometry and trig and was looking at population curves in Biology and realizing with a chill that this thing was an exponential curve, going upwards, and there was a big black horizontal line representing the LIMIT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CAPACITY towards which it was hurtling. I'd seen bacteria multiply in a petri dish. I looked up from the dish and pictured a world where skyscrapers and above-ground tunnels covered metropolitan regions that sprawled unbroken across thousands of square miles, encompassing states and regions and countries. In other words, I pictured the Earth turning into Coruscant-- only a lot less clean.

So I got newsletters from ZPG and NPG, who visited our high school campus during Earth Day. I wrote angry little tracts and kept them on a floppy disk in my jacket pocket. Naturally, I figured that the cause behind all this population-explosion stuff was a religious and political exhortation for all good people to have as many children as possible, regardless of whether the world needed them. I saw the US as one of the biggest sinners in that regard, if only because of which points I chose for my extrapolations.

But then I realized something: rich countries have fewer children. I may not have liked the thought of High City sprawling from Los Angeles to Eureka, but no matter how apocalyptic my visions, they weren't going to come true in this country. It was places like Bangladesh and India and China that had real problems with an anonymized, overpopulated urban future-- not the places where birth rates consistently fell below the replacement rate and where the main population increase was due to immigration.

And as time went on, and as during college I saw our worries about oil reserves and air pollution dissolve away as all our processes and our cars became more efficient, and as I saw the prices of housing in various urban areas become subject to the kinds of sinusoidal checks and balances that by rights I always thought they should be, I stopped worrying so much.

And, well, now here's an article that says why true "environmentalists" should be cheering the US and the developed West rather than blaming them for the destruction of the natural world.

Since 1970, when the great northern forest was being felled to print Paul Ehrlich best-sellers, the U.S. economy has swollen by 150%; automobile traffic has increased by 143%; and energy consumption has grown 45%.

During this same period, air pollutants have declined by 29%, toxic emissions by 48.5%, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3%, and airborne lead by 97.3%. For anywhere other than Antarctica and a few sparsely inhabited islands, the first condition for a healthy environment is a strong economy. President Carter and the other apocalyptic prognosticators of the Seventies made a simple mistake: In their predictions about natural resources, they failed to take into account the natural resourcefulness of the market. The government regulates problems, but the market solves them. So if, as Kyoto does, you seek to punish capitalism in the West and restrict it in the developing world, you'll pretty much guarantee a poorer, dirtier, unhealthier planet.

Hey, Paul: you want capitalist propaganda? This oughtta do you fine. Hail the Free Market! Make us rich, and we reward the world in kind!

I also like this, by the way:

I'd like to be an "environmentalist," really I would. I spend quite a bit of my time in the environment and I'm rather fond of it. But these days "environmentalism" is mostly unrelated to the environment: It's a cult, and, like most cults, heavy on ostentatious displays of self-denial, perfectly encapsulated by the time-consuming rituals of "recycling," an activity of no discernible benefit other than as a communal profession of faith.

Hmm. Didn't I just say this a few posts ago? Oh, wait-- I was talking about Linux. Or was I?

We've been awfully patriotic these days, imagining that 9/11 was an attack specifically on America, just for being America. So our response has been to fly a lot of flags and sing a lot of anthems-- but I think we might be defending an ideal that's just a little to the side of where we should be defending: the free-market way of life. Success. Wealth. Leisure. Personal achievement.

Because these things lead to beauty, art, environmental conscience, charity, innovation, and discovery-- and you know what? They occur of the people's own accord. Why legislate having fewer than 2.4 children when a country that's successful will choose to do so on its own anyway? Why decree protection of the natural world when an enlightened society will pressure the government en masse to set aside more untamed wilderness?

McDonalds and Coca-Cola might be symbols of evil global capitalism... but you know, they make us happier and richer people. And happy rich people do more good for the world than an entire hemisphere full of culturally pure but miserable peasants under a warmongering despot ever can.

10:54 - Bush Kneeewwwwww...

The immediate reaction to all these "Bush Knew All Along" stories in the news lately is fear, anger, and a sense of betrayal.

But you know, I'm actually comforted to think that there was foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks in the FBI and the White House. You know why?

Because I find it more reassuring to think that we had all kinds of information about it and didn't do anything only because it seemed so far-fetched and implausible, than that we were completely caught with our pants down and had no idea whatsoever that this kind of thing could happen.

If we knew about it, I can completely understand not doing anything. Alert the public? Then if you avert the disaster, you're being alarmist and you get voted out of office. Tighten airport security? C'mon, look how effective that's been even after the fact. Kick out all Arabs that are here on illegal visas? Yeah, right-- Ashcroft denied the court order which would have allowed the FBI to search Moussaoui's computer. Bomb Afghanistan? Yeah, good luck getting public support for that out of nowhere without a 9/11 to fuel it.

But if it were completely random and out-of-the-blue, then that would mean our counterterrorism intelligence was worth a couple of wet wooden nickels.

Say you live in the inner city, and there's a drive-by shooting. Are you more comforted to find out that it was a premeditated homicide, or that it was a completely random act? For my money, I'll take the personal-vendetta homicide, because that means I am not a potential target. Sure, I might get caught in the crossfire, but the scope of targets for random violence is a whole lot larger than that of premeditated murder. And so I find the latter more livable. On the face of it, you'd think it would be more comforting if the violence were just random-- until you think about it.

(For the record, yes, I once witnessed exactly this happening outside the computer-lab window at Caltech, in Pasadena, where one of our janitors was killed. Turns out that it was a family matter, a personal vendetta-- which I found a whole lot more comforting than if it were something random, where that bullet could just as easily have come through my window.)

At any rate, now that 9/11 has happened, our counterterrorism-- which as it turns out was on the ball-- will have a much less difficult time doing something substantive when a threat becomes known. And I find that to be a relief.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
01:55 - You... you resource!

I found out today from Chris that, at least according to the conventional wisdom of the artists of the VCL, fanart.lionking.org has become known as the definitive fan-art site that people know about. Everybody seems to mention it, to know its features, to have friends who use it, and to use it as an archetype to inform their ideas of what an art archive should be.

It's caught me rather by surprise-- after all, it's got a pretty limited scope (ostensibly, it's just supposed to be for fan-art for one particular movie, though the boundaries of that get pushed to completely ridiculous lengths at times). But since we're just about to tick over 40,000 pictures in the database, and 1,000 active artists, I guess it's getting so it's hard not to run into it if you're anywhere near the demographic that the site seems to attract.

It seems that Lileks knows all too well what it's like to be a resource-- after all, he does get an awful lot more e-mail about his Bleats than I do about my art archive. But I do suspect I know how he feels.

But he's doing it because he loves it, and my motives are similar. Sure, being a Resource has its downsides-- expense, time, aggravation, resilience, vigilance, and ingenuity when you can squeeze it out. But you know, it's also a whole lot of fun, and there's no way to deny that.

01:31 - Further Xplanations

Here's the question I want to ask the people I mention in that last Xbox post:

Assuming that you use Linux and not Windows, do you do so based on the platform's actual merits as a workstation-- or because you want to stick it to Microsoft?

The reason I ask is that I find it very difficult to believe that any rational geek would legitimately prefer the user experience of KDE or Gnome over the undeniable convenience of Windows. Yeah, sure, it's more configurable, it lets you put windows every which where, it has transparent xterms and virtual desktops, yadda yadda. But is that enough to make up for the lack of Word and Excel and Photoshop, or for the dearth of games that makes the Mac look like a choice gaming platform by comparison, or for the need to live a life of web-based groupware clients and shareware that's perpetually in version numbers below 1.0?

There are benefits to using Linux or FreeBSD as a desktop workstation, yes. Some of the alternatives you use in that environment are in fact superior to Windows' native versions. But the reality is that most Linux-on-the-desktop users have chosen their platform out of rebellion against the Evil Empire.

The entire defining decision in desktop computing, then, is founded on idealism rather than practicality. It's a major concession and sacrifice in the name of ethical purity.

So, then, why in God's name would these same people turn around and buy Xboxes?

My theory, depressing though it is, is that games are an exception to every rule-- like any mind-altering drug, they crawl under the skin, they blur reality, they alter priorities, and they make a person's ethics and ideals sizzle away like so much Hawaiian shave ice on a Palm Springs sidewalk.

I hear story after story now about people we used to know who have mysteriously vanished off the face of the earth-- they appear only sporadically in social circles (if at all), they call to say they'll be somewhere or do something and then they don't, they languish for months or years without finding gainful employment. It's all an insoluble mystery to those who wonder where the person has gone.

Well, I know what's happened.

23:42 - The Hypocrisy Box

I've covered this topic before, and in much greater detail. But since this just came up at work the other day, it bears repeating:

The next person wearing a Linux t-shirt who says, "Yeah, Mount Rainier should erupt and wipe Microsoft off the face of the earth... oh, except for the one building where the guys are who make the Xbox! I can't live without my Halo crack!" will get a glowing green X-shaped hole in the chest.

Way back when, like before I had this blog, I'd written about how the Xbox was Microsoft's equivalent of Joe Camel; it wins over impressionable youngsters to the sympathetic-to-Microsoft side through providing that without which they cannot live, to wit, video games.

But while that may indeed have been a successful prong of their attack, they've had still more success-- and a much more telling sort-- in winning over all the idealistic Slashdot geeks who have gone from "Microsoft is evil and must be stopped" to "Microsoft is evil annnnd... well, hey, let's not go nuts here. Leave our Xbox alone, man!"

One thing I fucking cannot stand is hypocrisy.

22:33 - Wishing revealing!

Remember the We Drink Ritalin Flash animutation video? Well, here are the real lyrics.

Is it just me, or do they make less sense than the deliberately misheard ones in the video?

Either way, I think I know what I'm going to be doing for Halloween this year: I'll make a big grayscale Chiu head, wear it as a body-suit, and do the Chiu Dance in big leather boots and Immortality Rings all around the office. Thus continuing the tradition of dressing up as memes-- the Pusher and Shover robots last year, and Brak the year before.

Incidentally, it seems to me that J-Pop music-- the descendant both of American rock and Japanese video games-- has become a genre all its own, and a lot more vibrant and unified and prolific than anything back here. Sure, we've got indie rock and neo-punk and ska and swing, but the energy of classic rock seems to have fizzled out into soft-pop glop, a decade of "alternative" thrash, and a million little shards of genres that no longer have any implicit identification or features that tie them to anything else in their class.

J-pop is defining a generation in a culture where unity is important, and our music is reflecting our general lack of a defining rallying point. Sure, we've got the Internet-- but it's fragmentary by its very nature. And sure, we've got 9/11, which might lead to a whole new era of art just as Hiroshima led to the nihilism of anime.

What's my point? Nothing, I guess. Just rambling.

22:09 - Isn't it weird how you can hear the subtle pronunciation of the Z?

I'll describe the situation in more detail a little later-- but suffice it for the moment to say that there were some five of us sharing a floor in a three-room carriage-house on an inclined Arcata street on Friday night; six more arrived in the night, and we all arranged ourselves somehow on the floor and the newly disassembed futon. In the morning, we were offhandedly discussing the bleary wee hours when the carloads of Techers trekkin' up from Pasadena had waded into the room; one person, whose identity completely escapes me, noted that she hadn't even woken up.

"I was showing off my l33t sleeping skillz."

22:05 - Working on the backlog... fueled by pizza.

I'm going to be chipping away slowly at blog entries about this weekend, probably starting tomorrow; because tonight I'm just too tired, and there's too much to write about. It's just too daunting to think about covering the entire KSR and the Ukiah Memorial Day Parade tonight.

But at least I have one consolation: pizza from Pizza Etc.

It's a nondescript little take-and-bake place in the scale-model-of-a-strip-mall that sits at the southern end of East Road in Redwood Valley, right next to the on-ramp to Highway 20. (These are the kinds of directions we have to live by in rural North Coast land.) It's run by this little old lady with big round glasses who remembers her customers even if they come in only once every six months, and the pizza you get there is-- indescribably good.

I don't know quite what it is about Pizza Etc. pizza (which, by the way, my family and I pronounce "Pizza Ettica"). The crust is firm and tasty without being overly greasy, and lined with a coarse flour on the bottom that lets you slide the pizza from the cardboard onto the oven rack or pizza stone without it sticking-- it lends a certain something to the texture. And the cheese is piled thickly and the mushrooms are hand-sliced real thin, and they always volunteer to add garlic, which they heap on if you say yes.

I think it's the crust that does it. It fluffs up really thick during baking, with a rigid and dense bottom layer and a high-piled, fluffy top; it's a live-yeast dough, the lady who gave me mine on Sunday told me, and so the trick is to let it rise a little bit before baking it, if you have to freeze or refrigerate it.

See, the thing about Pizza Etc. is that they have a very, very, very loyal clientele. Loyal enough that people who have had pizza from there once, and who live far afield (like, for instance, in another state), will often pick up pizzas there to take home with them as they trek across country. I was asking the employee (who had been recently added, along with an espresso bar and lots of other accoutrements which could only indicate an intensely booming business) about how best to transport a pizza the 200 miles between Redwood Valley and San Jose without it getting too warm or stale; she said that this was a question that they get asked all the time. It doesn't surprise me, frankly-- the pizza is really that good-- but I guess I was made unanticipatedly happy hearing that the business was doing so well that not only is Pizza Ettica not only not likely to go under anytime soon, it's becoming a cult phenomenon.

And to think-- I knew them when they first opened their doors.

I just polished off the pizza I'd schlepped home in my trunk, after having my long-suffering and ever-cooperative parents transfer it from the refrigerator to the freezer two hours before I diverted my carful of Glorious Kinetic Spectators thence to pick it up (and provide them a potty break), and it was every bit as good as their pizza always is. It seems to be getting better, even. "15 minutes at 425°" is a mantra that's spreading throughout the West on refrigerator magnets and little slips of paper, and the lady at the counter said that she was working there in the off-time from a job she held down in San Francisco. She was erudite and helpful and seemed every bit as keenly aware of her customers' identities as the kindly little old lady who runs the store is, which leads me to believe they're related. She was passionate about pizza, which isn't something you get here in the city, even at the very best of Mexican or Vietnamese restaurants. It's just a job, here in the burbs. Up there, it's a way of life.

There's also a pretty kickin' burrito place up there at the rural crossroads. If you ask me, Redwood Valley's turning out to be quite a nice place to be from.
Monday, May 27, 2002
01:17 - Homer sleep now.

Well, I'm back from the KSR... and after 11 hours of driving, plus marching in the Memorial Day parade in Ukiah, I think I'm just about ready to collapse in a heap without blogging.

I'll get all the details written down tomorrow, I promise. I can give you the short summary, though: it rocked.
Thursday, May 23, 2002
00:52 - Sparse (if any) blogging till Monday...


My college chum Allison just flew in, and I'm about to crash now so I can get up early-- we're driving up to Arcata to attend the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race there. I have no idea what it is, other than it looks bizarre and fun.

I wish, for the third time this week, that my camera weren't in being repaired. Maybe I'll take my old one, the one with the SuperDisk media and the missing USB cable so I won't be able to extract any of the pictures. It'll be so I can take a bunch of shots, and if I get any good ones, I'll feel bad; but if I don't, then I'll feel okay. Neat plan, eh?

We might be able to rig up a network while on the road, in which case I'll blog as conditions permit. But chances are that I'll be incommunicado until Monday night, after marching in the Memorial Day parade in Ukiah and driving approximately 14 hours from there to Arcata and back down to San Jose.

Whatever I end up typing then probably will be less than edifying.

17:56 - Eric Conveys an Emotion

Reaction 1: What the hell is this?

Reaction 2: This is the funniest, most original personal website I've run across in an extremely long time.

Reaction 3: Boy, blogs can certainly take on some odd forms, can't they?

Reaction 4: Hmm, this guy lives in Mountain View. Yay, a local boy!

17:45 - Aww.

Remember the PizzaIDF site, where you could order pizzas and Pepsi to be delivered to IDF units in Israel?

Well, seems the party's over now-- the military has apparently gotten just a little bit too nervous about the idea of soldiers happily accepting flat boxes from people they'd never seen before.

I guess that's smart, but... damn. Here I was thinking that the nature of war really had changed-- the "Home Front" this time, rather than driving rivets into Liberty Ships, is surfing websites and sending pizza to the boys in the field. But I guess reality is reality.

4,000 deliveries, though. That's not bad...

16:55 - Exterior Desecrators

Apparently we've been trying to get the front deck at our company repainted for a long time now. But every weekend when it's been scheduled this spring, it's rained. And you know, when you paint large wooden structures, there's this whole "needing to dry" thing that gets in the way.

Last year we repainted it for the first time, but within a week it had bubbled and peeled and had to be redone all over again. And now apparently they need to strip it and start over from scratch.

That's fine with me; whatever works. But I wonder if, this time, they'd consider painting it some other color than "diarrhea".

16:53 - Finally, the amoebae are safe

It's the .protozoa.us TLD! Yeah, whatever country has the .us domain group is probably going to make a fortune from th-- oh, wait. Never mind.

Anyway, take a look. At last, the Internet is safe for protozoa to take part freely without fear of being targeted by predators.
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
21:51 - Get Your War On


Okay-- this is good. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Ten pages of hilarity, as Marcus put it-- and it's the kind of humor that you feel really guilty, or maybe at least naughty, for finding funny. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those willing to find laughs however serious the subject.

It starts in early October, which means that the earliest strips are the best-- it's a raucous takeoff on the post-9/11 fervor that had us all running around in confused shrieking circles, and it's quite a time-warp to see it through this lens. It gets less good as time goes on, though, and the relevant issues become more subtle and divisive. Ah well.


09:48 - Sunshowers

I wish my camera were not down in Torrance getting repaired.

Two evenings ago, I was so distracted by the huge multicolored clouds gathering at sunset that I spent no less than an hour leaning out my window, staring out across the valley, unable to bring myself to sit at my computer and do e-mail and talk to friends. The clouds were jagged, broken, and heavy-- very weird for late May around here. The air smelled like vegetation, and there wasn't an insect to be seen or heard. All I saw were neighborhood cats sniffing around the tires of my car, then moving on down the street and tripping the motion-sensor lights in people's driveways.

Then, yesterday, we had an unseasonable storm. It rained all day. But it wasn't the heavy, sullen rain that we usually get; instead, it was all sunshowers, as Chris put it-- off-and-on flurries of sometimes intense rain, back-lit by patches of sunlight that lit up the trees and glinted off each individual raindrop. Every region of the sky was a different color; some places were thick with ready-to-fall rain, some were illuminated pinkish-gold, some were clear blue. At any given time during the day, we could look out the plate-glass window that covered what was once our loading dock, facing westward toward the Cupertino mountains, and see the greens on the trees and the colors of the parked cars more vividly than during any clear and sunny day. As the sun started setting, the rich light streamed into the lab area, fighting its way through the clouds that still kept trying to throw streamers over it.

On the drive home, the sun was lighting up the jagged edges of the weirdly westward-moving cloud shreds over the western side of the valley; but as I came through downtown San Jose, and just as I passed the downtown buildings with their deep blue and silver and gold reflective surfaces (and the repeated Kiki's Delivery Service line in my head: "I sure do love this city"), we hit first a veil and then a torrent of water. All of eastern San Jose was still staggering under a different front of the attacker. We felt it all night-- and I heard, also, that across the mountains, in the exotic otherworldly regions of Sacramento (which as far as we're concerned may as well be on another continent), tornadoes and hail were forcing the populace to dive for cover.

This morning, the colors across the street are fading and brightening, and the air is drenched-- like it's going to start shaking itself off like a dog. The storm seems to be largely over. The clouds have turned fluffy, though they're still jammed together.

And when the air is this freshly washed, the views are spectacular.
Monday, May 20, 2002
15:54 - From the "Be Careful What You Wish For" Department...

Scott Kurtz of PVP (which has a pretty smirk-worthy cartoon today, if you're so inclined) has an interesting take on the whole Phantom Menace let-down phenomenon and how Episode II fits in in a post-letdown fan society. He's had an epiphany, he says, and he may indeed have a point:

I'm tired of talking about Star Wars. I'm exhausted. The debates, the arguments, the speculating, the spoilers, all of it. Somwhere between RETURN OF THE JEDI, and THE PHANTOM MENACE, I stopped loving Star Wars and started loving "being a star wars fan."

Somewhere between the late 80's and now, it became more important to talk about the movies, speculate and philosophize about the mythos, than to just like the movies themselves. Somewhere along the line, I stopped loving STAR WARS and just started loving being a geek about Star Wars.

I was one of those people who felt hurt by THE PHANTOM MENACE. I was one of those guys screaming about how Lucas "raped my childhood." I'm one of those guys who has spent the last three years debating the issue with all my other geek friends.

Last night, sitting in that theatre, waiting for five hours to see a movie, I think I finally came to my senses. PHANTOM MENACE didn't destroy Star Wars. PHANTOM MENACE made me realize how silly I am for putting such an intense importance on a series of movies. MENACE didn't make me hate Star Wars, It made me hate being a Star Wars Fanatic.

Luckily, George Lucas gives us fanatics everything that we want in CLONES. Absent are any mention midichlorians or virgin births. All the cheesy lines are delivered by the droid we grew up with rather than a new CGI created character.

It really feels as if this time around, Lucas had at least one person holding him back and reminding him not to do anything that might upset us zombies.

So my non-review of CLONES is a message to all you fellow fanatics out there. Take it or leave it, I really feel it's the truth.

If you don't like ATTACK OF THE CLONES, you have no one to blame but yourself. George Lucas didn't ruin Star Wars for us. I think we ruined it for him.

Hmm. Could be, could be.

I know Lucas has expressed a certain scorn for the "fanboy" element in recent interviews; in the Time cover story a couple of weeks ago he talked about them as though they all resembled nothing so much as the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, whining and demanding. But maybe he's taken the fan-demand element so seriously now that he's trammeled in and unable to explore new story possibilities...? Is his creativity being hemmed in by fear? Has he given in to the critics?

If so, it should be sobering for us all. Sure, maybe Episode I sucked-- but at least it was surprising and kept opening up new vistas. Now that the gap between the Early Story and the Late Story is closing up, there's less and less wiggle room for Lucas to get creative.

That may be Episode III's biggest challenge: tying together the two ends of the storyline without being predictable as hell. And still more importantly, without it being drudgery for him, instead of the intensely personal act of creation that it's supposed to be.
Sunday, May 19, 2002
01:48 - What a Wonderful World

We may be a bunch of money-grubbing, self-centered, gun-toting, simplistic, anarchistic cowboys with bulletproof hair-- but we return each other's property, at least on occasion, as Steven den Beste found out.

I'm reminded of a story that happened to me back in 1996, during that godawful set of trimesters when I flamed out of my sophomore year and spent the fall quarter at home taking classes at Mendocino College so I could build up a good GPA and petition UASH in the winter to let me back into Caltech. I was taking the highest-level math class the college offered (which actually was about equivalent in content to the Math 2 class that I was supposed to be taking at Tech, though not as rigorous), as well as creative writing and a couple of other time-fillers. I also carried around a sketch notebook, which was filled with... erm, well, material of an intensely personal nature. It didn't have my name in it, nor my address, or any other identification; just a title page warning unauthorized readers of what content lay beyond.

And I lost it one day, in the math classroom. I apparently just left it sitting there. The next day, panicked, I asked my math teacher and the teachers who used the room after my class whether anyone had turned it in; I asked the campus Lost & Found repeatedly over the next few days whether it had turned up. No luck; never any leads. Eventually I gave up, figuring that at least nobody at the college knew me or knew that the notebook was mine, so I would at least be spared embarrassment.

So imagine the gear into which my brain shifted when a few days later, the notebook appeared in my home mailbox, in a plain brown wrapper, with no return address or note or explanation. Imagine the paranoia of my subsequent week or two. Imagine my rocking back and forth on my heels in a fetal position, mentally cataloging every face I knew on campus and retracing my steps, over and over and over. And I never did find out who it was, not to this day.

Yeah, humans aren't inherently evil. But some of them are sadistic mofo's.

13:51 - "As Chaste as the Pope"

You know... this whole "Pedophile Priests" thing may have caught everybody off-guard, or so it would seem from how unthinkable all the news organs claim it is. Well... you know, if you're the kind of person who's devoid of humor, and who thinks The Simpsons is blasphemous and whose idea of biting social satire is Ziggy, then yeah-- I'm sure it's come as a complete surprise. But for those of us with senses of humor, those of us who watch South Park and read Preacher, this is old, old news.

The schtick of the lascivious priest with the outlandish tastes and appetites is such an old gag that it's become a stereotype. My favorite line on the subject is by Nathan Lane, in Jeffrey: "Perhaps you didn't hear me. I am a Catholic priest. Historically, that rates somewhere between chorus boy and florist. Now c'mere, you big lug!"

Small wonder, to me, that so many of the best comedians are self-described "ex-Catholics". And as Glenn Reynolds noted a little while ago, Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show) took the stuffing out of Susan Sarandon over her fatally unrealistic approach to fighting terrorism, her insistence that we understand what is behind the hatred the Islamic world has for us. "Getting us to understand that," he said, "is like asking black people to understand why the Klan puts on pointy white hats."

Reynolds then notes, "Why is it that among the entertainment crew it's the comics who are disproportionately making sense on this stuff? Is it because they're the only ones whose jobs allow them to tell the truth?"

So, you know, we could have seen this coming long ago if more people had paid attention to the kind of raucous, "inappropriate" comedy that so many people are so concerned about shielding their youngsters' eyes from. I've always been of the opinion that when we allow ourselves to laugh at life, to stop taking everything so damned seriously, to see the ridiculous in every aspect of life (including-- and especially-- the things we hold dear), only then do we become capable of making rational decisions and taking effective action when problems arise. The instant we start treating some things as "sacred", that's when we deliberately begin blinding ourselves to the truth-- because you know, nothing in life is sacred. It's just not. Pretending that it is makes us rigid and stubborn and vulnerable for when they turn out not to be sacred-- and instead turn out to be child-molesters.

Humans so desperately want to believe in absolutes; but you know, those of us who don't weren't caught by surprise when this story broke.

Anyway, the linked article covers a book by Charlotte Poe (another "ex-Catholic") which describes the depravity of many of the past Popes, among a great deal else that's eye-opening and bizarre.

Pope Paul II (1464-1471) was apparently a flaming fag who spent vast sums of church money on Mardi Gras-like parades, spectaculars and banquets. He slept during the day and spent nights adorning himself with priceless jewellery and frolicking with his numerous boyfriends in the sumptuous rooms of the Vatican. Paul also was into voyeurism and bondage, it seems, and liked nothing more than to watch naked men being racked and tortured in the papal dungeons. It was said that during a particularly vigorous session on July 26, 1471, Paul died of a heart attack while being sodomized by one of his favourite boys.

Another poofter, Leo X (1513-1521) was said to have invited guests to lavish banquets with up to 65 courses - banquets, by the way, at which little boys jumped naked out of puddings.

...Though not surprising.
Saturday, May 18, 2002
16:01 - George Lucas Apologizes for Episode I

In this BBC News article from April 23rd, George Lucas admits that Episode I was stupid, silly, disappointing, and overmarketed. He promises that Episode II will have 2/3 less merchandising tie-in-ry, and he touts its lack of "silly characters or kids" as a big selling point.

It takes a big man to cry. But it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man. And it takes an even bigger man to spend $115 million, earn four times that in the US alone, and admit that artistically it was a piece of crap.

Thanks, George. This is all I needed to hear. You're back on top now.
Friday, May 17, 2002
02:39 - Queen Kaitlyn

If I were to pick out one thing that simply does not work for me in Star Wars Episode I and II, surprise-- it's not Jar-Jar. Though he ranks right up there. His role in Episode II is so brief that it doesn't really bug me, which takes down his average a bit.

No, the big problem I have is: Natalie Portman.

Sure, she's a very good physical actress, bearing the mantle of "teenager queen with funky headdresses" in the first movie, and "white-clad action heroine" in the second. But... her delivery is just so ... well, anything but "regal". She sounds like an LA high-school kid. She has a breathy, dimply lilt that makes her sound like she's about fourteen-- even in Episode II, when she's supposed to be ten years older than in the first movie.

Compare this to Carrie Fisher, whose Leia was brash, strong, clear, and adult. There's an absolute world of difference between the way Leia says "If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive", and the way Amidala says "You'll always be the little boy I knew on Tatooine".

Now, I don't mean that I demand the two to sound alike. But I do mean that I have trouble taking seriously someone who sounds like Drew Barrymore or an MTV veejay trying to pass herself off as a planet's Queen. I had enough of that reading the Oz books way back when.

18:23 - The Case for the Empire

Somehow I had a feeling that the pundits would descend upon Star Wars with searing insight into the Lucasian political universe as it applies to today's world, especially since Episode II is so overflowing with political ideas and mind-bending imagery of change. (Seeing the end of the film, with the clone stormtroopers marching into the proto-Star Destroyers, taking off to defend what we think of by that point as the "good guys" against the evil separatists, against a fiery red sky, is quite an "Uhhh..." moment.)

So here we have The Weekly Standard making the case for the Empire. You know, "freedom fighters" and "rebels" don't seem to ring so sweetly with us Americans these days anymore, do they?

I had been hoping to see Episodes 7, 8, and 9, when it seemed likely that they would exist-- if just because the end of Return of the Jedi seemed so anticlimactic. How many Jedi, exactly, "returned"? Why was it so good for Galactic society that they did? With the Empire destroyed, what does the Rebel Alliance propose to do in order to govern in the Empire's power vacuum? And how would they do it better than the Empire (which we saw only as interior shots of military spaceships, rather than everyday life on the planets, as in Episodes I and II)? These are questions that undoubtedly were originally intended to be answered in the third trilogy of movies (which may yet be made-- who knows?).

But it's interesting, isn't it, to see how a movie's point can change as the world circumstances that surround its making change?
Thursday, May 16, 2002
21:55 - Captain on the bridge

Over at USS Clueless, the Cap'n exhorts us to eschew stupid political correctness in favor of having a little honest fun. Hey, don't worry, man-- I'm way ahead of you on that front. (Though politicians aren't likely to follow suit, not when there's stonewalling to do. Remember when Dogbert petitioned Congress to ban the obscene lyrics in opera? "Senator, I think we've found something else to keep us from doing real work!" "Ooh-ooh!")

He also explains what it is that Microsoft really wants from its monopoly-- not the death of rival software companies, but the preservation of their exclusive right to own the desktop. No virtual machines, no meta-environments, no write-once-run-anywhere platform-independent stuff. No portability-- just Windows.

This doesn't exactly make me feel better than if they simply wanted to kill Netscape and Java out of meanness and pettiness. In fact, it's worse. It means they're far more concerned with maintaining the status quo of their monopoly than with innovating-- innovation is something they do only when it suits them, and by this model that's the only way it makes sense. Don't innovate unless it helps to crush a potential threat to the platform monopoly. If that wasn't their focus, it would mean that IE and .NET and the Xbox are all genuine expressions of inventiveness that they just happened to give the leverage of monopoly in order to hawk them. And it seems that's not the case.

One would think that a company this repugnant would have no support at all among the buying public. But, of course, these issues take a lot more thought and effort than simply using Windows like a good boy.

16:59 - An Army of Chakotays

Just got back from seeing Episode II, and my sound-bite verdict is that it's very good. Certainly a hell of a lot better than Episode I, though that's not much of a stretch. It's about halfway between Episode I and the other three in "feel", and that's more progress than I'd hoped for.

I won't trouble getting into the plot details (of which there are far too many to deal with anyway-- talk about convoluted storylines); I'll just say one thing: Lucas has finally figured out how to integrate a prequel into a series, and that has made all the difference.

Episode I suffered from repeated plot-point references to other Star Wars movies, but it made the ridiculous mistake of referring to events which would happen later in the series-- the most obvious example being when Qui-Gon tries to use his Jedi mind-tricks to get Watto to sell him that engine or whatever-it was, and Watto said "What, you think you some kind of Jedi or something? You mind tricks don' work on me!" Which only has a place in the script if the honest exchange to which it refers-- the "These aren't the droids you're looking for" scene from Episode IV-- has already taken place in the series. You canNOT do the same scene twice by playing it with a twist the first time and playing it straight the second time. Vice versa is fine. They do it all the time. But not the way they did it in Episode I.

But this time around, while the references to other SW movies abound, they're done properly-- which is to say, they don't detract from the impact of the antecedent scenes in later episodes, and in fact they help to foreshadow them. When Anakin feels that his mother is in pain and rushes off to save her, with all the consequences that ensue, it's not just a pre-reference to Luke rushing off to save Han and Leia and so on in Bespin in Episode V-- but it's a foreshadowing of the event, invoking the same issues. The only difference is in scale (here in Episode II, it's a quick personal vendetta, whereas in Empire it's a much larger-scope decision that results in cataclysmic revelations and so on). First comes the small-scale event, then later there's the large-scale mirroring event. Much better done.

It was good to see the droids back to their familiar selves, but I could have done without C-3PO's ad-libbed quipping. "This is a drag!" "I'm beside myself!" C'mon-- this isn't Nickelodeon. This we don't need.

And as we all noted when coming out of the theater, Episode III is going to have to involve some kind of cataclysmic event that knocks Galactic technology backwards by a couple hundred years before it looks like the stuff in Episode IV. The stuff we're seeing in the early episodes is straight out of Star Trek-- smooth, shiny, aerodynamic, computer-generated. But the stuff that we see in episodes IV through VI are angular, blocky, utilitarian, and heavily detailed in that way that only the hands of skilled model artisans can make it. And going from the insanely fast pace of the battle scenes in Episode II to the leisurely, spare clank of Episode IV will be trippy indeed.

Oh, one other note: Jar-Jar's role in Episode II was blessedly brief. And if he was only there so as to appear as the lone, unexpectedly courageous Senator who makes the audacious proposal to the Senate, then I'll live with it-- as long as we don't ever have to see him again.

Looks like Lucas is back on track. I'm glad to see it.

And the story is getting big now, at last.

11:20 - If I tell myself it's going to suck...

Our whole engineering department, as is our company's tradition when there's some huge blockbuster movie event opening, is going out to see Star Wars today.

I've read enough early reviews to know that it rocks, it sucks, and it sucks rocks. I'm not holding out any hope that it will be anywhere near as good as we thought Episode 1 would be until we saw it. But word is that it's at least fun.

The showing is at 12:45, so we need to go get some early lunch and then go stand in line.

We're earning our pay, honest!

11:15 - Gardeners in the Garden of the Dead

Looks like I need to pick up a copy of this week's New Yorker.

It features a photographic gallery of the WTC site over the past several months by Joel Meyerowitz, who was interviewed last night on NPR's Fresh Air. It was one of the best such interviews I've heard in a long time, and what's especially weird is that earlier yesterday I had just been thinking about the WTC site, what it must look like today, and what they might build there.

He talked about his first panoramic shots that he took of the site in late September, when it was still smoking, lit by stadium lights.

He talked about walking past an escalator every day that led up to a second-story day-care center across the street from the site, frozen in ash-- he went up there and found all the cribs and tables smashed up against the far wall, where the force of the buildings' collapse had driven them, from through the WTC-facing plate-glass window.

He talked about visiting the Fresh Kills landfill, which had been closed just months before 9/11 (it had been "completely filled up"), and was reopened to accept all the rubble from the buildings. Said rubble appeared as though it had all been cataloged, tagged, and stacked without regard to its initial purpose-- fire trucks stacked eight high, steel girders and office equipment, and a larger-than-life human-figure Rodan sculpture lying on its side right next to a piece of the airplane.

He talked about some of the relics he's acquired from the site-- most notably, a 2-foot-long piece of steel that a cleanup worker had given him, which had a Bible heat-welded to it, opened to the "eye for an eye" sermon.

He talked about the kind of memorial he'd like to see there: in among whatever buildings get put in, a forest made up of 3000 trees. They would be pines of various sorts, natively from whatever countries the various victims of the attacks were from (80 English firs, 100 trees from Germany, or whatever the numbers are). Then each tree could represent a person, to anyone who might want to visit the site, in an abstract way.

He talked about what the WTC site looks like now-- it's a huge, 16-acre pit, which the workers (the "cleaners") call the Bathtub. It's almost completely cleared and smooth; it has a single column left from the South Tower, which people are still attaching photos to; the plan is that when all the cleanup is done, they'll take down that column, drape it in flags, put it on a flatbed truck and then on a barge, and send it out to sea to float wherever it will.

At the other end of the Bathtub is a giant mound of fine-grained rubble, which the cleaners continually spread out over the open space and rake for human artifacts-- a shoe, a bone, anything that can be used for forensic identification. They just keep raking, and they feel compelled not to stop; some of them go back to rake even when they've put away their uniforms for the day. The guy that Meyerowitz talked to said that they were "gardeners in the garden of the dead."

I want to see these photos. I may have to go pick up a copy.

But then Fresh Air moved on to Paul Goldberger, the New Yorker's architecture critic; he talked about potential plans for things to put in where the WTC was. To my unabashed disappointment, he did confirm that it was very unlikely that they would build something similar to the previous WTC-- no mega-skyscrapers, primarily because nobody builds mega-skyscrapers anymore (the economics stop being in their favor after about 80 stories), but also because nobody's going to want to have their offices on the 100th floor of a building right where the old one was.

Sure, it would be a perfect act of defiance, but as he went on to say, there are other ways of being defiant than rebuilding exactly as it was.

The one thing we can't do, though, is leave the site empty of buildings. To do so, in one of the least trite usages of the term in the past eight months would be to let the terrorists win. Because if their goal was to eliminate the heart of the busiest financial center in the hated West, then it would become a colossal success. Especially, if Occidental Intelligence Briefing is correct, the World Trade Center towers-- more than any other landmark or piece of infrastructure-- were seen in the Muslim world as a symbol of global Islamic failure in defiance of what Allah had promised-- and so therefore it had to go. (I agree with OIB's author on the point that this should make us feel a bit better-- if what they wanted to destroy was symbols rather than infrastructure, then we don't have much left to worry about on the same front.)

Goldberger talked about "healing the skyline" with some kind of non-business-related tower, maybe something communications-related (like the CN Tower, and after all the WTC did have that gigantic antenna which could stand to be replaced) and/or an observation deck or something. Some kind of landmark which would suggest the WTC and place something significant into the void the towers left, but not something as imposing.

Presumably his comments will appear in the same New Yorker issue. I want to see what some of the proposals look like.

I'll see if I can find a newsstand.
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
01:43 - Did I ever mention how much I detest sports?

Via some random hey-you-might-like-this pointer from a friend, I had the opportunity to read this rather eye-opening entry in a Torontonian acquaintance's LiveJournal about what's happening up there in Hockey Playoffs Season.

First, go back to the end of January here (use the little date-picker thingy at the top of the page); you'll find a post I made on Super Bowl Sunday about how horrific and how damaging to society that I think sports are; but now that I've read this entry, I no longer worry that we have it bad down here. I can only thank my lucky stars that I don't live where I have to burrow into a hillside for several weeks every spring in order to avoid stuff like this:

And just when my baby had finally forgiven me (I spent 4h+ cleaning him) I drove him though downtown on a day when the Toronto Maple Leafs (as grammatically incorrect as that may be) won some game against some other team. I don't want to generalize and say that all hockey fans are idiots... statistically, that's fairly improbable. However, all of the ones that ARE idiots were certainly out in full force last night. OK, wearing a jersey I can forgive. Flying flags... well, alright. Honking your horns... besides being annoying, it's also somewhat dangerous... there were a couple of instances that night where I would have used my horn legitimately to warn someone of a dangerous situation... and instead it was taken as some fraternal hockey-brother greeting. If I did anything dangerous and someone honked at me to warn me, I certainly never knew. Still, people honk at newlyweds and that only mildly annoys me, so I must concede that the honking was only mildly annoying.

BUT, let me tell you what the remainder of the freakshow were up to. People leaning out of the windows/sunroofs (sunrooves? who knows)/trunks (no kidding)/doors (again, not a joke)/truck beds of MOVING vehicles, waving flags, swearing and challenging me when I gave them the finger (oops) and generally providing even more than the already considerable amount of danger that driving in Toronto affords. At least those people remained somewhat confined to vehicles that, for the most part, still followed the rules of the road.

Some of the pedestrians, though, were really pushing the limits. I waited for several lights to get through the intersection of Yonge and Wellesley because some "Leafs" fans decided to disregard the pedestrian crossing signals and march, proud as pie, back and forth across the street waving flags, blowing horns, and generally being drunken asses. When I finally DID get to the intersection, there was some completely brain-dead moron in the very centre of the intersection, pretending to direct traffic with a Leafs flag. As I rolled down my window to yell "Get the FUCK out of my way!" as loudly as possible at him as I drove past, someone in the group of pedestrians closing in on my right side hit, kicked or otherwise 'thumped' my car. Had I the presence of mind and a better idea who had done what, I would have backed up, in traffic, and broken their fingers. However, no such luck.

The horror. The funky horror...

00:43 - Die, Xbox, Die

I've had so many links to so many articles sent to me about the recent price drops in Sony's PS2 and the Xbox (both from $300 to $200) that it's hard to choose which one is best. But I particularly like this one, because it's from MSNBC-- where I can poke fun at its Microsoft-biased angle.

Because Sony manufactured custom components for PlayStation 2, initial manufacturing costs were high and Sony lost an estimated $50 on every console sold. Now, however, Sony has shipped 30 million PlayStation 2s and the economies of scale have cut the cost of manufacturing the console. In the same interview, House said Sony was making a profit on its hardware sales.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has sold less than 2 million Xboxes in the United States, and has faced significant problems internationally. Though Microsoft virtually sold out of hardware immediately after its November launch in the United States, Xbox sales slowed down in the beginning of 2002. The U.S. market seemed to be settling with Sony commanding approximately 56 percent of sales while Microsoft held a 24 percent share and Nintendo held on to approximately 20 percent.

But what MSNBC doesn't tell you is that the Xbox's $300 price encompasses a $150 loss per unit for Microsoft-- a huge loss-leader margin compared to the PS2, one that Microsoft hoped to make up in game licensing. I don't know how many copies of Halo that translates to, but that's about the only game that could possibly have contributed to success on that front, and I have a hard time believing that they could make up $150 per console even selling one $70 copy of Halo to every single Xbox owner. Even if every Xbox owner bought three or four copies, it wouldn't make up the loss. They're banking on each and every Xbox owner buying a library of some fifteen or twenty games (c'mon, kids, cough up $1400) in order to justify the console and its gigantic marketing blitz.

But now look-- they're selling it at $200, and I can't imagine that "economies of scale" can have reduced manufacturing costs all that much. (Granted, they're not marketing it much anymore, so that might make a dent.) But be that as it may, they're still losing at least half the cost of each console they sell.

On the one hand, Microsoft had better hope this spurs more purchases. But on the other, more console sales aren't going to translate to more game sales, especially not with as crappy a game library (Halo excepted) as the Xbox has; nobody's even making exclusives anymore. So maybe now more people will buy consoles and Halo, accelerating the suction out of Bill's pockets.

Maybe Microsoft had secretly better hope people just stop buying game consoles and do something else with that $200.
Tuesday, May 14, 2002
00:29 - Humility

I'd just like to show yesterday's and today's Bleats to everybody I know, especially the creative types, who's ever felt the old "why bother?" urge and thought about packing it all in:

Even Lileks has days where he feels irrelevant.

18:40 - SO sorry to hear that.

Mickey Kaus, writing in MSN's Slate, tosses in this little befouling-one's-nest nugget at the end of an otherwise unrelated article:

A few months ago I predicted that Microsoft's introduction of Windows XP would spark the nation's economic recovery because, unlike its predecessors, XP "won't crash." Having now purchased a Windows XP computer, I can say I was wrong, not about the recovery but about XP, at least as evidenced by my machine. It crashes all the time! It crashed, in fact, while I was writing this item. ... How's that?

Well, what did you expect? Microsoft to make good on a promise?

It could just be me, but it seems that the more loudly Microsoft touts some new product and how much global importance they ascribe to it, the more likely it is that it will be a colossal flop. The XBox is writhing in its death-throes. .NET is a laughingstock. Windows 2000 was supposed to be the answer to everybody's fevered Windows prayers, and yet it took almost a year to become fully accepted in the enterprise-- and now Windows XP, far from leaping off store shelves and sailing into the air suspended by wires from the heavens to the strains of Madonna music, has shown "lackluster" sales figures. Once again, the only significant sales are going to be on new computers that come with it; more pundits than ever before, especially the not-so-computer-savvy ones, are saying "My current computer does what I need it to do, and I know how to deal with its idiosyncracies. I'm not about to install some new OS that I'll have to learn how to deal with all over again."

And never mind the people who refuse to upgrade to XP because of all the "activation" stuff and anti-piracy "features" and network chattiness and embedded Microsoft ads, or the fact that IT departments all over the tech industry are refusing to allow XP into their enterprises. And then there's Office XP, which the industry has greeted with a deafening yawn.

While on the other hand, it's the unheralded workhorse products that not only consistently make money for Microsoft, but gain them unqualified praise. Their mice, for example, are top-notch. And the games they publish, which are almost all bought from third-party developers, are often extremely good-- and have fierce customer loyalty. (Just ask your friendly neighborhood Asheron's Call player.)

If you step back a few paces and look at Microsoft, you see a very large, very confused company. They're being sued every which way for monopolistic practices, and they're working to increase their monopoly wherever nobody's watching-- at the same time. They're widely vilified for just about everything they make, yet everybody still unhesitatingly buys their products. World governments consider them a plague on humanity, while Microsoft claims to be so indispensable to international financial health that any punitive action against them could mean recession and ruin.

Microsoft is a tree covered with fungus and rot; it has healthy branches, but an equal number of dead ones-- and you can hear the groans from deep within its trunk as it threatens to collapse under its own weight any day now. All that it will take is just the right kind of storm, at just the right time.

13:29 - Duuuuude-Wear

Apparently Steven the "Dell Guy" (you know, the one with the cute little smile you want to hit with a brick) is soooo popular with the hip teen set that Dell is releasing a line of clothing, baseball caps, backpacks, and other accessories featuring his likeness and slogans.

The PC maker said its foray into Dude Gear is a natural extension of the commercials, which have made Dell more recognizable to consumers.

"Consumers can't get enough of 'Dude' so we've given them some stylish ways to express their enthusiasm," Kurt Kirsch, director of new business development for Dell's consumer group, said in a statement.

I dunno-- I like to think I'm part of a demographic that responds to a somewhat different kind of marketing than this.

Yes, I know I must invoke Chris' Third Law: I am not the target audience. But still... I find it discouraging that the target audience in question is so bloody big.
Monday, May 13, 2002
16:08 - Circumventing copy-protected CDs

Seems that a way has been found to sidestep the copy-protection on CDs from Celine Dion and Eminem: just cover up the corrupt outer data track (the one that makes PCs think the disc is invalid) with a black Magic Marker or a Post-it note.

This is good news, and further proof (as if any were needed) that there is no such thing as an uncrackable copy-protection system, although that axiom tends to be rendered moot anyway by the ineptitude of the schemes that keep getting put in place. (Remember how WMA got cracked within a day of the release of Windows XP? And remember DeCSS? And DiVX players?)

It won't affect me much, because I'll be boycotting any artists who release copy-protected CDs anyway. But for that overwhelming majority of people whose ethical codes allow them to call for the blood of Microsoft in the Slashdot forums and then turn around and buy Xbox games, this is a good tip to know.

12:33 - Oh yes: this little bauble...

Hey, did you know that Microsoft was convicted of software piracy and intellectual property theft, and fined 3 million francs in late September after a decade-long court battle?

It's true. And as The Register notes, all the usual news organs have been oddly (suspiciously?) silent on the matter.

Seems that when Micrososft acquired SoftImage, they "forgot" to remove some functionality that was covered under a contract with the French firm Syn'X, who wanted the code removed (and was legally justified in doing so, too).

Of course, Microsoft claimed innocence. Of course, they claimed that they were only innovating and acting in the consumer's best interest.

Of course, the penalty was a measly fine that Microsoft could have paid out of their parking-ticket budget.

I guess this story's going to have to spread through the blog channels, because it's not coming to light any other way...

12:07 - More history lessons

There's a lot of good reading over at USS Clueless lately-- not like that's significantly different from the normal state of things, but yesterday's post about the Mongol Horde (and the modern conventional-wisdom handling of it in colloqualisms and punditry) is just too fascinating not to share.

Why couldn't history class have been this much fun? (Oh wait-- in my case, it was. Thanks, Mr. Boynton.)

Also, scroll down a bit for the Cap'n's take on Europe's suddenly realizing that the Palestinian terrorists that they'd volunteered to take into their countries are... well, terrorists. Well, duh, guys. Think we dumb-ass Americans might possibly know what we're talking about after all?
Sunday, May 12, 2002
02:16 - Notice that they don't show PPG late at night...


Who keeps cool when things are hot?
Yogi Bear!
Who believes the world may dream
But always ends up on the beam
Yogi Bear!

Who wrote this stuff? How can the so-called "entertainment industry" ever have decayed to the state where this was considered top-drawer prime-time material? Was there really that much despair in the world back in the 60s, that we were content with this Hanna-Barbera dreck and the godawful contemporary Disney features carrying the torch of animation, what was once a national treasure of creativity?

What can be said about an era in which Daws Butler is considered the paragon of voice-acting talent?

Did Hanna-Barbera consider it to be the height of avant-garde hilarity to have everybody run around with their hands in their pockets?

And who the hell ever wore those ridiculous stylized hats that all the Hanna-Barbera characters sported all the time? Hey, never mind that-- what about those bizarre hats from Heathcliff and Archie-- you know, those crown-looking things that garbage men and sidekicks wore? Or did they? Was it a fashion statement among blue-collar workers and annoying lidded-eyed comic-relief high-school classmates?

And what insane German-accented high-voltage-torture-equipment-using mad scientist prevailed upon the entertainment industry to cause every studio from Warner to Disney to Hanna-Barbera to milk the "sickly-cute-baby-duck-with-high-pitched-squawky-voice" genre so far beyond its original scope (which by rights should have lasted approximately seventeen femtoseconds)? Why do we have to see "Yakky Doodle" cartoons from the 60s right next to new geriatric-Joe-Barbera cartoons from 1999 starring the same damn duck?

And why did that Harry Potter ad that I just heard pronounce "Hermione" as "her-MY-oh-nee"?

And why am I still awake thinking about this stuff? The weekend's over, Brian. Go watch that "We Drink Ritalin" animutation again.

"Gather me eyes!"
Friday, May 10, 2002
16:43 - Come to the Party, and Bring a Towel

Here's a story on the posthumous Douglas Adams collection The Salmon of Doubt:

This collection, complete with foreword by Stephen Fry and epilogue by Richard Dawkins, will certainly please those who are already committed to Adams family values. If you have not read, or do not love, the five volumes of the "increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker trilogy" and the two extant Gentlys, then The Salmon of Doubt will seem like an excellent party to which you have not been invited.

Nevertheless, whether hymning Bach and The Beatles or Wodehouse and the Pythons, recounting the joys and frustrations of computer geekhood, observing endangered species or coining epigrams like they were going out of style, Adams demonstrates the wit, compassion, eccentricity and generosity of spirit which his admirers sorely miss.

Thursday, May 9, 2002
17:32 - Hee hee... cute.


User Friendly weighs in on the MP3-sharing/fair-use/DMCA question. Very silly.

It's unclear exactly what message the strip is trying to convey-- is it mocking people who flout the DMCA? Is it mocking the DMCA itself and the record labels?

Sure, there are some shining moments of insight and wit-- but this kind of lack of clarity is one thing that tends to keep User Friendly out of my general rotation. Ah well.

Still good for a giggle.
Wednesday, May 8, 2002
02:19 - A site that's a product of... something

Take a look at this site... it's lots of stickers and t-shirt designs and bumper-stickers and coffee mugs with cynical, world-weary, post-modern slogans that are not for the faint of heart.

But the real treat is the JavaScript pop-up descriptions for each of the items. Read a few of those, see how they relate to the slogans they're attached to, and you get the impression of a mind that's charmingly "stop-and-smell-the-roses", like seeing 2 the Ranting Gryphon suddenly break into a Disney song or preach a heartfelt ode to the power of the human creative spirit.

There's some pretty funny stuff here, too.

21:15 - Huh huh huh huh. That was cool.

Well, the radio interview went really well, by all accounts. Kris and Chris were listening to the Real stream there in the lab, and Chris made an ON AIR sign (with flashing blue LED back-light) for me to hang outside my cubicle. He also fended off the cleaning lady with the vacuum cleaner who came in and started drowning me out towards the end of the hour.

My mom called me five minutes after the show ended to tell me she'd caught the whole thing-- that it was a really interesting show, that I didn't get too esoteric or unintelligible, and that she'd almost got my old boss Jim to phone in and harass me. (It would have been an improvement on our actual call-ins, as a matter of fact-- we just got one guy asking for the Ukiah Mac Users Group phone number, and a lady with a question about fonts and PDF printing in OS X.)

Both the hosts were big OS X fans, actually, which made for a nice set of common ground. There was all kinds of stuff to talk about, and I didn't even get to some of the stuff I wanted to bring up (Apple's stance on "fair use", for example, versus Microsoft's firmly pro-Hollings stance-- it's in Apple's interest to produce cool software that lets people do new stuff, because that might encourage people to switch platforms; but it's against Microsoft's interest to innovate in that area or to support creativity tools, because that threatens their ability to strike licensing deals with other corporations-- and because they don't need to woo anybody to Windows). So maybe I'll see if I can get on a future show. There's all kinds of opinions that I wouldn't mind transferring from blog to radio...!

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Hey Lileks! I'm one 'a you now! (Shyeah...)

17:39 - Nearly ready to go on air...

Cool-- they've updated the above page with info about the show, the book, me, and ... agh, now I'm getting the shakes and stuff.

Bob says that he and Jim Heid (the other host) will be doing a couple of other items before they bring me on, so I'll be joining some time after 7:00.

The RealAudio stream is online right now, though, in case anybody wants to tune in beforehand.

13:28 - Yeah, what he said.



This is the strip from yesterday, and the author has been taking heat for it:

Those who wrote feel it's ridiculous to suggest that movie studios release multiple versions of DVDs because of piracy. Agreed.

rather than get into multiple email discussions with everyone who wrote in, let me go ahead and concede the point. Movie studios release multiple versions of DVDs because it's profitable, not because piracy forces them to do so.

I am, however, suprised at how many people actually defended piracy. Maybe it shouldn't surprise me, considering how many gamers and tech people I know. If I had a nickel for everytime someone said "Dude, burn me a copy." I would be rich.

And I think, ultimately, that's the strongest argument against piracy.

I think that stealing content is wrong. Period. I'm not getting preachy here, because I'm as guilty of stealing content as the next guy. Some offenses have been worse than others. I mean, I tape and rebroadcast football games without the express written permission of the NFL.

I'm not above admitting my guilt, but please...PLEASE don't tell me that it's okay to steal. At least have the balls to admit that it's wrong. You know?

Well said.

Content producers expect a certain amount of stretching of the rules on the part of consumers. People will tape football games, people will fast-forward past commercials, people will copy favorite CDs to their MP3 players. That's "fair use", and content producers gamble that such actions will not occur to a degree that will impact sales. Steven den Beste had an article about exactly that a little while ago, on the subject of whether a TV viewer is "obligated" to watch commercials in order to get content for free (in this case, skipping through commercials is economically equivalent to taping a show or e-mailing someone an MP3):

The producers of ad-supported material are basically taking a statistical gamble. It's never been the case that ad-viewing has been 100%; it's never even been remotely that high. The advertisers base their ad-rates on an assumed lesser rate, multiplied by a certain chance that any given person viewing the ad will then become a customer. If the amount of new business brought in offsets the cost of the ad, then it's good business practice. And ad rates are set based on the expected return.

But that's between the broadcaster and the advertiser. If the effectiveness of the ads drops, then the advertiser will pay less to the broadcaster, and the broadcaster has a problem. But the fact that they both need the ads to be viewed has nothing to do with the viewers.

But when you start harrumphing about how software companies are greedy for expecting to be paid the advertised price for their product, or how movie producers should not have the right to terminate with extreme prejudice people who make bootleg copies of movies and make them widely available on the Internet, you cross the line into "actively trying to undermine the market". You may not be doing it maliciously. All you want is notoriety ("I'm so l33t! This v1d iz encoded by --=-[]-DeAtHwOlF-[]-=-- !!!!1!1`") and convenience.

But you're breaking the law, and (more importantly) you're betraying the trust of "fair use"-- the trust that companies have given you on the assumption that you will be reasonable about what you do with the content.

And when you betray the trust that gave you the technological freedom to make those copies, you send them the message that you can't be trusted with that capability-- and then Fritz Hollings gets to pass bills that make it illegal to rip a CD onto your MP3 player.

I hope you're proud of yourselves.

11:39 - My Radio Debut

It would seem that I'm going to be interviewed on the air tonight at 7PM Pacific, on a show called "Point & Click Radio" hosted by Bob Laughton on KZYX, the public radio station in Fort Bragg, California. We'll be talking about FreeBSD Unleashed, which I guess means we'll be talking about what FreeBSD is supposed to be, how it differs from Linux, and why Microsoft must die. Well, we'll see how it goes.

Since I'm a local boy, I'll be talking about how it was that I of all people managed to land the book deal; so I suppose I'll have to tell the whole story of lionking.org and its derivative benefits and services, and my current job, and past jobs, and all sorts of boring-as-hell stuff. I'll have to see how much I can gloss over and still have it make sense. (Not that it would make any sense if I put in all the details, mind you.)

It's a call-in show, so I might get to answer questions from local geeks. We'll set up our very own North Coast Open-Source Resistance. We shall not be dislodged!

It'll be about a half-hour show, and because KZYX doesn't exactly have an international broadcasting range, I'll be getting a tape of the interview afterwards, which I'll convert to MP3 and put online somewhere for people to listen to if anyone in the wider world is interested in hearing it. It'll also be available at the above URL in Real format.

Whee! Another milestone to fame!

10:53 - Arr, me mateys.

Let's be theoretical for a moment, shall we?

Suppose you come across a car sitting by the side of the road. It's unlocked, and the keys are in it. What do you do?

To my mind, there are three possible basic courses of action:

A) You don't take the car, because that would be wrong.
B) You don't take the car, because you're afraid you'll get caught.
C) You get in and drive happily away.

Now, take "car" and replace it with "cracked copy of Photoshop".

We're still being theoretical here; but my theory, the theory that is mine, that it is, is that those people who chose options A or C above will treat the pirated software exactly the same way that they would a car. If they don't steal things because it's wrong, they won't use pirated software. If they do steal things just because they can, they'll have a raft of bootleg software on their computers.

But people who chose option B-- those who don't steal only because they fear getting caught-- those are the ones who make software piracy such a funky gray area. They know theft is wrong-- they just don't care. They're very practical-minded, these people-- they want to maximize the benefits to themselves while minimizing risk, and they'll take whatever they can get away with. The problem is that it's so much easier to get away with stealing software than stealing a car. And so someone who would never dream of stealing a car-- indeed, someone who wouldn't palm a jellybean from the serve-yourself bins at the supermarket-- sees no wrong in using an unlicensed copy of Photoshop or Windows or WinZIP or Maya.

Of course, there's another effect at work here: when you steal a car, you're stealing it from somebody. You're sticking it to a particular person-- the hapless shmoe who left his keys in the car. But in stealing software, you're sticking it to the Man-- all you're doing is diluting the value of the software, because a copy can be made effectively for free. It's not a physical good. So the "B" people will frequently rationalize software piracy by claiming that they're not really hurting anybody, they're just thumbing their noses at those greedy software companies who have the gall to charge $600 for Photoshop. "We're just adjusting the fair market price to a more realistic number!" they will cry, puffing themselves up with pride in their understanding of supply-and-demand, smug in their for-the-greater-good freedom-fighter platform, their self-styled moral high ground of knowing what's really better for the world. "Information wants to be free! You can't fence in creativity! Free tools for all! Long Live the glorious Revolution!"

But you know, second-guessing the free market is the same thing as theft, no matter how you rationalize it. At best, it's the equivalent of running a black-market underground fence for Rolexes of dubious authenticity.

The company sets a price for its products, based on how much return from sales they know they can get at that price. They maximize profits by adjusting the price so as to cover development and to support the exclusivity of the software. Why don't they sell Photoshop for $70? Because they feel that only professionals should be able to afford it. That's customer-targeting.

And here's a secret: Adobe has the right to make that decision.

Someone who says "You know, I can't afford to buy Photoshop, but I can get it for free by just pulling this little wire out of my ethical center" and who rationalizes it by saying "The company shouldn't be charging that much for it anyway-- they should expect people to pirate it!" should ask himself whether he would treat a car or an NVidia card the same way. Is the only difference the fact that the product's distribution model is different? Is that all that makes it okay to steal it?

So when I see an e-mail pass through my box that says something like "So I can understand suing him for copywrites and such, but going after him for pirated software I think is a little much. Yeah sure he does it, but why bother? I myself would rather have a free copy of Adobe photoshop then pay some outragous price of 400$+ for it," ... that's when I have to ask the question about the unlocked car on the side of the road.

And if the person answers "B", then I put the testicle-crushing tips on my boots.
Tuesday, May 7, 2002
20:49 - Must... write... blog...

There probably won't be much in the way of posting tonight. I'm dog tired.

My team spent two and a half hours today in an interminable meeting about process and restructuring and roles, drawing up matrices on whiteboards and asking the same questions over and over again and defining terms and proposing alternatives and going off on tangents until what was supposed to be a quick pre-meeting jam session to get some tedious but necessary stuff out of the way before tomorrow's weekly "real" meeting turned into a grotesque parody of an office nightmare, something right out of Dilbert:

"Welcome to the four hour... MEETING FROM HELL! Ha ha ha ha haaah!"

"That's rarely a good sign..."

And now Ed, Edd, and Eddy is on. Has the world no mercy upon me this night?

20:46 - Can we elect Peruvian politicians to our own Senate?

Microsoft has just had its anti-open-source FUD boilerplate fed to it with a jagged spoon by Dr. Edgar Nuñez of the Peruvian Congress.

Peru had made a resolution to adopt only open-source ("free") software in its government data-management systems. Microsoft, as could be expected, presumed that this decision was made based on a lot of idealistic hoo-hah and uninformed, unrealistic assumptions by local lobbyists or something-- that some Peruvian politician had heard that "Open Source is Free!" and decided on that basis to outfit all the government offices with Linux.

So Microsoft fed them a standard line about how Open Source is evil and how Peru was making a big mistake-- that free software is insecure, expensive to maintain, depresses the local economy, and all kinds of further allegations.

And they got a response. Boy, did they ever. Dr. Nuñez takes the Microsoft statement and drags it through a hedge trimmer backwards, and the result is an impression of a government that's a whole lot more enlightened about technology and the realities of programming and innovation than anybody in this country's Congress seems to be.

I wonder what Dr. Nuñez' position is on MP3 players?
Monday, May 6, 2002
21:20 - Okay, some elaborations are in order.

Okay-- seems I was rather unclear in my statements about the recent slant on Doonesbury, and I must clarify and re-illustrate.

Back on May 2, I said this:

Shortly after 9/11, he tackled the problem of racial profiling by putting a scary-looking Arab on a plane, scaring the bejeezus out of his seatmate Mike-- until you discover that he's a baggy-eyed, cynical Palm-Pilot salesman who's just out to live the American Dream like the rest of us. That was fine, because at the time it was a very real concern-- we had no idea that events would transpire such that incidences of anti-Muslim aggression in the US would be so vastly outnumbered by incidences of anti-Jewish aggression in Europe. His concern has turned out to be a non-issue in the scheme of things.

But lately, it seems as though he's realized that what he'd figured would be important to lampoon has turned out not to be-- and so rather than drifting back towards center, he's slammed the rudder hard-a-port.

Read over the past couple of weeks' worth of Doonesbury strips. I knew Trudeau was a fiery liberal and all, but this is just weird. If it goes any further, he'll be comparing Sharon to Hitler-- and if you haven't read Lileks' latest Bleat on why that comparison can be ascribed to nothing but utter barking madness, you need to go do so right now.

And the current contention is that reading through the past couple of weeks of Doonesbury doesn't seem to reveal this biased leftward swing. In fact, it would seem to show equally weighted stabs at the Palestinian suicide bombers and at Sharon.

To witness I call the following:

Now, at first blush one might conclude that these are intended to ridicule the suicide bombers. But I don't agree. The interviewee is portrayed not as a religious nutcase or a raving lunatic or a fiery young Uzi-toting world-shaker with dynamite strapped to his toddler's forehead. Instead, it's a teenaged girl, with Trudeau's trademark cynical baggy eyes and full pouting Cover Girl lips and everything. She gets to defend her cause without so much as a wry, pointed, ironic question from Roland. All he does is ask her how old she is.

Then she gets to remain on the topic of the urgency of martyrdom-- which still is not portrayed as insanity. The ridicule is still not aimed at her, but at the shallowness of American youth-- you know, those blonde mallrat bimbos who represent all that is evil about America with their valley-girl vocabulary and their petty, provincial socializing. By contrast, the Palestinian girl is businesslike, focused, determined, idealistic-- why, she even would seem to make a strong case for blowing herself and the patrons of a pizza parlor into chunks.

After some sidelong ribbing at the "72 virgins" thing-- which manages to come off as a gentle, offhand guffaw on the part of both participants-- we're back to the idealism and the righteousness... until Roland brings up a parallel with Jewish culture, upon which the interview is cut short with the urbane curtness of a Hillary Clinton or a Bill Gates.

Maybe I am seeing this from a biased perspective. Maybe Trudeau did indeed mean in these strips to poke fun at the concept of suicide bombing. But to my mind, if that was his intent, he did an uncharacteristically piss-poor job of it. I can think of a dozen more scathing and funny ways to ridicule people who are willing to blow up civilians because of their religion, and I'm not even being paid to try to be funny. (And a good thing, too.)

Especially when these strips are immediately followed by a series on Sharon's rolling tanks through innocent civilian neighborhoods and crushing the downtrodden refugees under his jack-booted heel. If I were more petty about this, I could point out that even the Palestinians are admitting that the Jenin massacre never actually happened... but that would be "propaganda", wouldn't it?

20:43 - Ooh, baby.


Saudi Arabian authorities have confiscated thousands of full-length black cloaks for women for violating strict Islamic law (Sharia), a Saudi newspaper has reported.

Al-Jazirah said religious police and officials from the commerce ministry had searched more than 350 shops and factories producing the abayas in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.

The newspaper said 82,000 of the garments were removed.

The confiscated abayas, which are worn from head to toe, were considered to be too revealing or carried decorations and drawings prohibited under Sharia.

Yeah. Go, Ministry of Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue. Burn those filthy whores in their on filth. It's their own fault for showing too much nose.

I swear.

You know, we Westerners are taking a lot of flak for "not seeing the world through Muslim eyes" and "not having the proper perspective" and "not having enough respect for other cultures". Well, you know, some cultures are worthy of respect because they have pure and pristine ties with the land and sing primal tribal songs and stuff. Some cultures deserve honor because they've been hunted to extinction and lost their homelands and yet manage to preserve their ancient traditions into the modern day. Whatever hip new-age reason one might have for striding about in a white suit and bolo tie and wide-brimmed hat singing about the virtues of whatever backward culture you have romantic notions about, you're going to have a platform with some merit. Humans are humans, and all humans are equally worthy.

But some cultures have actively waived their right to respect. They're doing it every day, they're doing it loudly and proudly, and they're not stopping. The same mentality that blows up ancient Buddha statues in cliffsides (to the consternation of fatherly colonial imperialists everywhere) is today punishing women for daring to wear abayas that are too revealing.

And yet these guys are our "allies".

Sunday, May 5, 2002
15:42 - 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.
Friday, May 3, 2002
03:33 - 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
00:15 - 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."

20:21 - Steven den Beste is a war criminal!

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

19:51 - 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.

19:09 - 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
22:44 - 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
13:05 - 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.

12:56 - 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
01:20 - 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.

18:49 - 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?

17:42 - 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
17:59 - 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.

13:45 - We got lucky this time...

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

Let the bloody IDF do its job.
Saturday, April 27, 2002
02:05 - 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.

01:53 - 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
11:43 - 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."

Thursday, April 25, 2002
02:00 - 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.

17:25 - 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
00:04 - 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.

22:35 - 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.

18:22 - 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.

13:40 - 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.

10:08 - 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.

09:19 - 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
22:59 - 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...

19:24 - 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.

19:12 - 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.

13:49 - 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
21:58 - 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.

11:32 - 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
18:20 - 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.

17:56 - 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.

17:52 - Al


The things I wake up with stuck in my brain in the wee hours...
Saturday, April 20, 2002
00:50 - 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
15:55 - 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.

13:57 - 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.

13:26 - 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"?

10:53 - 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
11:16 - 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.

09:41 - 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.

09:31 - 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
01:16 - 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.

17:14 - 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.

14:51 - 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.

13:38 - 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.

13:13 - 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
20:43 - 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.

11:52 - 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
23:06 - 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.

22:47 - 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.
Sunday, April 14, 2002
03:26 - 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.

03:00 - 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.

01:17 - 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.

23:00 - 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.

21:27 - 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.

20:10 - 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?

16:41 - 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.

14:05 - 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.

19:19 - 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
10:55 - 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.

10:17 - 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
00:55 - 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.

00:24 - 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.

19:47 - 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
21:38 - 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
18:15 - 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
22:52 - 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?"

22:28 - 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
18:08 - From The Register: Microsoft has had its "teeth kicked in" over the Xbox.

Double aaaawwwww.

18:05 - Windows XP has inexplicably failed to take the computing world by storm...


Saturday, April 6, 2002
00:45 - 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
14:20 - 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.
Wednesday, April 3, 2002
02:05 - 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!

01:50 - 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.

09:40 - 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?
Monday, April 1, 2002
02:33 - 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.

16:48 - 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.

12:59 - 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.
Sunday, March 31, 2002
02:21 - 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
23:03 - 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
11:57 - 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
01:30 - 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.

20:44 - 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.

14:22 - 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..."

10:06 - 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.
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
02:22 - 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.

01:41 - 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...

17:50 - 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.

14:56 - 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..."

14:47 - 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".

14:15 - 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...

13:37 - 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
00:40 - 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.

21:05 - 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.

20:58 - Testing...

Just seeing if we're on..
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
18:16 - 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.

13:35 - 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.

12:09 - 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.

10:26 - 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
18:21 - 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.

12:03 - 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'

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© Brian Tiemann