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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12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, July 13, 2002
03:21 - Stamping Out Engrish

Hey, look-- according to Mainichi Daily News, Japan is taking an active concerned interest in how their grasp of English is being ridiculed abroad and costing them credibility.

Under the title, "English Strategy Initiative," the report recommends that high school graduates be required to "hold daily conversation in English." For university graduates, the recommendation requires that they be able to use the language in their jobs and research.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology became concerned about the nation's English ability apparently because the average scores of Japanese in major English tests for non-native speakers have been poor.

The average score for Japanese examinees in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) stands at 513 out of the total 667 points possible. The score ranks 144th among the 156 nations and regions where the TOEFL is regularly conducted.

Among 23 Asian countries, Japan's score ranks a pitiful 22nd.

Wow. I had no idea that what we'd grown to accept as camp actually had a basis in fact.

But I know I'll miss seeing old ladies walking around with t-shirts that say "RAPE ME" in huge letters, and restaurant ads that say "Domestic careful selection pork with little fat of female liking is used; it has healthy vegetables with salad feeling fully."

On another note, though, I can't help but notice-- the Japanese certainly seem to have more exciting headlines than we do. Just look down the left-hand column at the following "Top News" links:
  • S. Korean questioned over fake World Cup tickets
  • Judo tournament bans kids with plucked eyebrows
  • ANA plane makes emergency landing after woman dies
  • Man runs down son while washing car
  • Outrage greets origami stork sales
  • Man pounds baby girl senseless
  • Top university student molests first grader
  • Fascist thugs bash breakaway members
  • Suspect claims lack of love refutes stalker charges
  • Suicide leap thwarted by 35-cm gap on tracks
  • Pornographic vending machine sparks bust
  • Severed head belongs to slain hostess

I mean, dude, man!

00:17 - Chunnel Across the Species Gap

I address the following to the set of (readers who own cats) + (Lileks). If your identity mask combines positively with this set definition, you must follow the link.

Hiker has just had a moment involving his cat, accomplishing-- well, maybe accomplishing isn't quite the right word for it; but doing something that has contributed another valuable fragment of data to the body of human knowledge about the mind of the cat, the feline body of knowledge about the human mind, and the fateful but impenetrable interaction between the two that has remained so fitfully static for so many thousand years.

It's confusing. It makes no sense. But it changes everything I thought I knew about my cat. I thought I was just this huge, lumbering force that delivered food unto her dish and occassionally offended her dignity by picking her up and showing affection. Now that there is a chance that she might respect me, albeit in some strange feline way, I must reassess how I behave in order to return that respect.

You're curious; I know you are.

And you know what a cat would do in such circumstances.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
11:40 - These are humans we're dealing with here

In a post to the RISKS list, Peter da Silva explains why Palladium is an outstanding idea-- if only we were all machines who obeyed rules and didn't continually find ingenious ways to get around onerous security measures.

The referenced article included such gems as "Palladium stops viruses and worms. The system won't run unauthorized programs, preventing viruses from trashing your system." Setting aside all the other issues in the article, this by itself is a remarkable piece of misdirection.

Why? Well, let's look at viruses...

There are four main avenues that viruses and worms use to spread. There are others, but the vast majority of outbreaks have used these avenues of attack.

The first, and oldest, is "social engineering". You trick a human into running a program for you. This is the electronic equivalent of calling up the sysop at a company and saying "hey, this is Jack Smith in accounting, I can't get in, I forgot my password because I had it programmed into my mail program, can you clear it for me?". Making the OS more secure can help somewhat, but you don't need to wait for Palladium to do this... most multi-user operating systems are designed so that users normally run with restricted privileges, and so can only damage their own files... not the OS or other user's programs.

The second is exploiting a straightforward bug, usually a buffer overflow. To fix this you don't need a new security model, you need a programming language that doesn't allow buffer overflows.

The third is a "cross frame attack": you trick the client software (web browser, e-mail program, music player) into running untrusted code without restrictions. This is almost always an attack on Microsoft's poorly-advised merge of the web browser (which is almost always dealing with untrusted objects) with the desktop, mail software, and so on. If they had integrated the HTML rendering engine in the OS and left the Internet access code in a separate program that used the HTML rendering code but otherwise managed its own access controls... at least 90% of the widespread virus outbreaks would never have happened.

The fourth is conversion attacks. You encode the message containing the attack code inside a package the outer layers of the OS or application don't know how to open. Ironically, Palladium is likely to make this kind of attack easier, because it's almost certain that part of the security model will involve separating the system up into components that don't have the keys to each other's files.

Ironically, one of the latest security issues with a Microsoft product is due to the first Palladium-type software having three of the kind of security holes I just listed above... Windows Media Player. The second of the three holes would not exist if Media Player didn't have to have access to the OS internals to implement Digital Rights Management.

Of more concern, the integration of the browser and the desktop and other components that created the possibility of "cross frame attacks" is due specifically to Microsoft's attempt to avoid complying with their original agreement with the Justice Department by bundling the Browser and the OS. Microsoft has maintained this dangerous design despite years of massive virus outbreaks caused by this decision, because otherwise they'd have to admit fault. Even now, when they have been found at fault, and there's nothing left to lose, they refuse to unbundle the Internet access from the rendering code.

So, not only has Microsoft never before shown much concern for this problem, they have actively worked to prevent a straightforward fix that they are legally required to implement. Using this issue as a hook to get more control of the computer is, well, there are polite terms for it and I'll let you decide which one to apply.

Even if you don't care about this specific issue, what does this say about their likely behaviour if security problems crop up in the design of Palladium?

You know, we can haggle about statistics and numbers all we want. We can argue over the relevance of elegance and aesthetics in computer design, and we can disagree over whether treating the Mac-vs-PC battle as a "morality play" is juvenile or seminal.

But the fact of the matter is that I feel a whole lot better commentating on things like Palladium from a position of not ever having to worry about it being a part of my future.
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
17:37 - Cheap shot alert

The Cap'm is getting a new computer, and his tastes in monitors are refined.

And I finally found one; it's the dream monitor: Eizo's FlexScan F980. It's got features up the wazoo. Like most top-end monitors these days it contains a USB hub. But it's not just there for devices like mouses and keyboards, the monitor itself is actually a USB device. You can run a program on the PC which controls the monitor settings through USB, which should be pretty interesting to mess with.

Yup. That kind of thing is really neat, even today. It was awesome back in about 1992, when Apple monitors had ADB connectors for out-of-band management and control and hub duties, as they're doing now with USB. So ever since then you could adjust the stretch, positioning, keystone, parallelogram, pincushion, rotation, and other settings visually by dragging with the mouse in the OS control panels. And eventually that management channel (ADB, and later USB) was merged into the main video cable, and later still with the power cable into one connector for the entire monitor.

Those monitors were also pretty cool in that they would auto-recalibrate over time, compensating for the aging of the phosphors; they would also update the computer's ColorSync profile, so images created on that machine would still appear the way the user intended when opened on a remote machine.

It's always nice to see the rest of the industry eventually coming to recognize certain advancements as worthwhile.

(Sorry; couldn't resist.)

UPDATE: Matt Robinson notes:

Everyone knows that the Mac has had a sensible, innovative approach to hardware that the PC can't approach due to the generalisation and generic-componentisation that they have to deal with. When you control the hardware and the software, implementing an new power/graphic/usb socket is simple - for a PC manufacturer it's a bloody nightmare. I'm not excusing them, but it's not always that Apple has the best ideas: it's that Apple has the best ideas AND the ability to implement them - to change their own standards, because no one else relies on them.

I'd suggest that Apple fits the "benevolent dictatorship" model and PC is more like "sprawling beurocratic democracy". Steve decides to change something for the better and he'll kick a bit of ass, raise a bit of hell, and it'll get done. Back in the PC world, someone has an idea, but for it to be implemented, it must be economically feasible, it must be adopted by sufficient manufacturers to become popular, and have support along the line from hardware vendor to software drivers and support from Redmond. All this via endless meetings, forms in triplicate, business flights to visit allied companies, etc.

Yup. That's called "whole widget" product development. Cons: costs more, limits choice. Pros: you get kickass toys ten years before everybody else does.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002
11:57 - It's not a browser war-- just a sanity war

Matt Robinson has some words of wisdom for the people at macsurfshop.com, who don't work with Netscape 6 because of an HTTP_REFERER bug in that browser. Matt's contention? It's a mistake to rely on the referer in the first place, for many other reasons than Netscape 6 not using it properly. He's absolutely right, too.
Monday, July 8, 2002
00:25 - Wonder what he thinks of "Tokyo Breakfast"...

Michael Jackson sucks, according to Hiker. I'm inclined to agree. If he didn't before, he sure does now.

I've been of the mind that when celebrities reach about age 40, they are presented with a decision: to start making fun of themselves, or not to start doing so. Depending on the choice they make, they enter my good graces or they leave them.

William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are two prime examples of people who get more mileage out of lampooning themselves these days than taking on serious roles. For that they have my undying respect. Ah-nuld is another. Hell, even Bill Gates wins points for things like starring in that internal Microsoft parody of the VW "stinky chair" ad a few years back. And just look what happened to Bob Dole once the election spotlight skipped off his Viagra-chomping, Pepsi-swilling visage.

But Michael Jackson appears unwilling to let go of the time when he was relevant; and, like Bill Watterson and ... well, honestly, mercifully few celebrities refuse to lampoon themselves these days; even Stallone does it. But Jackson has entered a very elite club, the club of Washed-Up Ex-Celebrity Losers who get no more benefit of any doubt from me.

20:03 - Wife of LAX Shooter Says He's Innocent-- hey, stop laughing!

I'm totally serious. She thinks he couldn't possibly have done it. Even though the whole thing was recorded from twelve different angles by airport security cameras, and police have his crusty hole-in-the-head ass in a refrigerated drawer.

"My husband didn't do such a thing. This is nonsense," 41-year-old Hala Mohammed Sadeq El-Awadly told The Associated Press on Monday in Cairo.

"Hesham called on July 4, it was his birthday. His voice was very beautiful," she said. "He asked about the boys, asked me to take them out a lot and to review their lessons with them in order to be ready for next year."

Well, golly whillikers-- you don't think that maybe, just maybe, the reason he said those things was because he knew he wouldn't be around to do it himself?

For Pete's sake-- what is wrong with these people? A couple years ago, it was Egyptian authorities and Muslims everywhere who were convinced that the EgyptAir pilot who dumped his plane into the ocean couldn't possibly have done it as an act of suicide-- because suicide is prohibited in the Koran, and the pilot was a Muslim. It's just not possible! Never mind the black-box recordings with the pilot's voice asking for forgiveness from Allah, and the instrument recorders showing him turning off the autopilot. Those things mean nothing, because he was a Muslim, and Muslims don't do things like that.

Does reality have no bearing at all on these people's brains?

El-Awadly said she did not believe her husband was responsible for the July 4 shooting and was being blamed because he was Arab and Muslim.

"He is a victim of injustice," she said three times. "In America, they hate Islam and Arabs after Sept. 11."

@#$%*#. @#$%*#. @#$%*#.

(Saying something three times makes it true, doesn't it?)
Sunday, July 7, 2002
17:56 - Moooom, make the freaky Muslims go away

From the list that has so far brought me (quite without my asking) hand-wringing discussions of whether Muslims are allowed to dissect frogs or cook with wine, or whether non-Muslim women are any better than slave harlots, today we have this following-- er-- article.

I understand that this is aimed for Muslim readers, and that there's probably plenty more of the same on any Muslim website one might care to mention. But still: this came into my mailbox, and I think everybody has a right to experience the love and joy the way I have.

I don't write this stuff, I just repost it with added bold emphasis.


Our Struggle with the Jews is a Struggle for Existence, not a Struggle for Land

Al-Asaalah Magazine Editorial Staff
Source: Al-Asaalah Magazine, Issue 30 (pg. 5-6)
Translator: abu maryam
Produced by: al-manhaj.com

The enemies of Islaam and the ignorant people that follow them are trying to portray the reality of the struggle against the Jews as a struggle for land and borders, and as a problem of refugees and water ports. And they make it seem as if it is possible to end this struggle with peaceful coexistence and by compensating the refugees, rectifying their condition of living, dispersing them throughout the land and establishing a weak petty secular state, which will live under the Zionist power and which will serve as a shield for the Zionist state (against their surrounding enemies). But all of these people don’t realize that our struggle with the Jews goes way back, ever since the first Islamic state was established in Madeenah with Muhammad, the Messenger sent to all of mankind, as its leader. Allaah has related to us in the Qur’aan, the reality of the Jews’ malice and hatred for the ummah of Islaam and Tawheed, as he says: “You will surely find that the people with the most enmity towards the believers are the Jews and the polytheists.” [Surah Al-Maa’idah: 82]

So see how Allaah has placed the Jews before the polytheists in their hatred and enmity (towards the Muslims). Even though they are united in their disbelief, they differ (from others) in their (immense) hatred towards the ummah of Muhammad, as Allaah says: “The Jews and the Christians will never be pleased with you until you follow their religion (way).” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 120]

And ever since the first hour in which the Muslims let the beautiful fragrance of Islaam flow through it (Madeenah), the Jews were there showing enmity to the Muslims and their Prophet. So our Prophet, Muhammad, was not safe from the harm of the Jews amongst their ranks. They tried to kill him three times. One time, they tried to kill him by putting a heavy rock on his head. Another time was when they placed poison in the forearm of a goat (for him to eat). And a third case was when the Jewish boy, Lubaid bin al-A’asam, may Allaah’s curse be on him, put a magic spell on him.

And lo, there are the Americans, supplying the Jews with the most ferocious and harmful weapons of destruction, so that they can kill the Muslim children, women and elderly people of Palestine. And they preoccupied the world with their American elections for the purpose of drawing attention away from the Jewish massacre and butchering of the Muslim people of Palestine.

And lo! There are the British, who supply the Jews with loud and explosive ammunition, which when used result in horrific deaths and everlasting handicapping for the youth of Palestine. So this ummah (nation of Palestinians) are open prey - whether young or old, infant or woman – in the hands of the Jews and their supporters.

And lo! There are the supporters of the Jews, who preoccupy the ummah and draw their attention away from the casualties suffered by the Muslim people of Palestine. And they make the people blind to the crimes committed by the Jews by broadcasting the Olympics and other worthless programs, which only make the ummah numb and put it to sleep!

Don’t the Muslims know that our struggle against the Jews is a struggle of Creed and a struggle of Religious livelihood? Don’t they realize that it is a struggle of culture, a struggle to remain in existence, a struggle of identification? Wasn’t it the Jews who set fire to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsaa? Weren’t they the ones who initiated archeological excavations under it, (ruining its foundation), so that afterward it can crumble on its own?? Weren’t they the ones who killed Muslims while they were prostrating in the month of Ramadaan in Masjid Al-Khaleel?!? Did they not cut open the stomachs of pregnant women, murder babies and set fire to the pastures and the farmlands!? Wasn’t it the Jews who transformed the masjids of Palestine into bars of alcohol and gambling?! Did they not turn them into compounds for animals and garbage dumps?!?

Then after all of this, it is said: “Our struggle against the Jews is a struggle for land and a border dispute!!” And the desired solution is to establish a petty Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, so that the followers of the three monotheistic – or so they claim - faiths can live in it. Are these people ignorant of the fact that the only Religion acceptable in the sight of Allaah is Islaam? Or are they ignorant of the fact that Ibraheem is free and absolved from the polytheism and idolatry the Jews and Christians are upon. “Ibraaheem was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but rather he was Haneef (worshipping Allaah alone), a Muslim. And he was not from the polytheists.” [Surah Aali ‘Imraan: 67]

Indeed, the only solution, which the Jews will understand, is Jihaad – done with its proper conditions – to raise high the Word of Allaah. The Jews do not want peace, rather they only want that this ummah surrender and submit itself to them, and that it bow and debase itself to them. And they want that it wipe out the word Jihaad from its vocabulary! They want them to become slaves, employees and laborers for them, having the right to beat them with their shoes and lash them with their whips whenever they feel like it!

Our real struggle with the Jews will not end by setting up a withered state that doesn’t raise the banner of Islaam nor establishes the Laws of Allaah. How can it come to an end when the Muslim recites in his prayer seventeen times - day and night – “And do not make us from those who gained Your Anger nor from those who went astray.” [Surah Al-Faatihah: 7]

Those who “gained Your Anger” are the Jews and those who “went astray” are the Christians, according to the unanimous agreement of the Tafseer scholars, and this is so until the Day of Judgement.

So the decisive battle in which the Jews will come to an end will most assuredly come to pass – it is inevitable. It will be a battle of Faith and a battle of servitude to Allaah. The Prophet (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “You will indeed fight against the Jews and you will kill them to the point where the rock and the tree will say: ‘O Muslim! O ‘Abdullaah (slave of Allaah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except for al-Gharqad for it is from the trees of the Jews.”

This is a true promise from the one who doesn’t speak from his own desire (Prophet Muhammad), which confirms the true nature of our struggle against the Jews, unlike what the misguided and misguiding media is portraying.


My, my. It's fully annotated with citations from the Koran and everything. That means it must be true.

That's what I find so tragically endearing about all this, in the way that one might see a kid weeping bitterly over the death of his favorite Pokémon, or some Net junkie committing suicide over some in-game tragedy in Everquest. Within the context of an alternate reality, events which may or may not have ever happened are accepted as gospel historical fact, and the fact that the rest of the world doesn't accept such claims as fact is irrelevant-- it just means the rest of the world is insane or demonic. They just don't understaaaaand! I mean, look at some of these statements: Are these people ignorant of the fact that the only Religion acceptable in the sight of Allaah is Islaam? What, are we some kinda idiots? What's wrong with us? How can we be so blind?

They put a heavy rock on our hero's head! Now we must kill them all! Has there ever been anything so infantile?

I wonder if these people are even capable of understanding allegorical satire, like the "Frodo Baggins Indicted for War Crimes" article at Cold Fury?

As I've said before, there are only two possible lessons we can learn from stuff like this:
  • Islam is right, the Koran is the verbatim Word of Allah, and the entire world must submit to Sharia Law and destroy the Jews for their Koranic crimes, or
  • Believing the words of a book written centuries ago by superstitious tribes of nomads, and accepting those stories as anything but allegorical fables from which to gain guidance for daily personal conduct, is the height of human gullibility and weakness of mind-- and is only going to result in more 9/11s as time goes on.

Those are the only two choices. Really. That's it.

15:33 - What a Place to Live


I was on my way to pick up some lunch, and noticed that not only were the mountains in front of me as clear as day, but so were the ones off to my left-- northward into the East Bay-- and so were the ones behind me, on the western side above Cupertino. So I went on past Taco Bell and up Quimby Road.

Once again, I wish my camera weren't in the shop. The picture at right is from several months ago, and it doesn't do today's view justice at all.

It was perfectly clear, with visibility for a hundred miles; I could not only see Mt. Tamalpais in the North Bay, but I could see the fog at its base and pick out individual buildings in downtown San Francisco.

That's what's so nice about summer around here. Whereas in LA, summer is the smoggiest time, and only briefly during the winter are the mountain ridges crisply visible-- in Silicon Valley, May and October, for some reason, are the only really hot months; in between, it's cool and breezy, and the air clears itself out for weekend views, so I can go up Quimby Road or into the Santa Cruz Mountains on a lazy morning and stand there taking pictures or just staring. It's about as comfortable as though I'm standing under an air-conditioner vent all day; I could stand out there all day long if I want to.

Garrison Keillor on the radio, bicyclists nodding and waving as they labor their way up the slope, distant cars and planes speckling the landscape... it reminds one that this place once was called the Valley of Heart's Delight. Must have been quite a sight, when people could look across it from this same location, before there was anything but a few scattered little towns here and there, or even when it was full of orchards.

... Bah, I'm rambling. But I tend to do that when it's a clear day.
Saturday, July 6, 2002
16:06 - The Middle-Earth Criminal Court

If there was ever a Cold Fury article that deserved linking to, purely on the merit of its smartness of ass, it's this one.

This is a war of good-vs-evil, whether some countries want to admit it or not. The UN and related bodies are beginning to look to me like 13-year-old girls who think that the can approach and enter a tiger cage with impunity, if they just hold out their hands so the tiger can sniff. Then they'll turn all tame, and they can scratch their cheeks and bat around balls of yarn and play with string and stuff. Right?

If they don't watch out, they're going to end up tiger chow. And I'm going to laugh.
Friday, July 5, 2002
20:26 - Now that's reasoning...

Okay, so maybe this Islamic mailing list will turn out to be fairly amusing after all.

Today I got a message that consisted of two pictures of groups of Muslim women, one of which showed them being shoved or herded by Turkish police, and the other of which showed them weeping. The heading was "Jewish ally Turkey attacks women in Hijab". There was no other text to the story.

Totally laying aside for now the spin-- namely, that whatever happened here between the Turkish police and the Muslim women who were wearing the traditional hijab (which has apparently been banned in Turkey), it's obviously more significant that Turkey is a state that sympathizes with Israel than that they are a Muslim state. We can't be publishing headlines showing that Muslims are persecuting Muslims, can we? Nooo, it must be because they're "Jewish allies". But that's not even what I wanted to point out.

What I wanted to mention was the signature on the post. It read as follows:

"Why do you fear the word terrorist?... If a terrorist is one who struggles in the way of Allah, than we are terrorists." Sheikh Umar'Abd Ar-Rahman { statement made by the former leader of Jamiyya tul Islamiyya (Egypt), during his interragation of the WTO bombing back in 1995}

Brilliant, innit? I love it. Now, I don't know the circumstances of the origin of this quote (though I daresay the question Ar-Rahman was asked was something to the effect of "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any terrorist organization?"); but its subtext, and indeed its text, are just a grand specimen of weaselry. I would imagine Muslims aren't allowed to lie before Allah, or something, so this was his way of saying yes. "Am I a terrorist? Well, if you're asking whether I'm a Muslim, because obviously you Americans equate terrorist with Muslim, then yes, that's what I am."

Except, of course, that's clearly not what he was being asked. And so what's come out of his mouth is startlingly symptomatic of the mindset that so many Muslim extremists seem to embrace: that our concept of terrorist is a quaint and provincial one, something that has no meaning for Muslims-- only for Westerners. Only we would be so petty and secular as to label with a special derogatory term those who give their own lives for the cause of destroying enemy civilians. Because that, after all, is just part of jihad. Those stupid Americans just don't understand that.

This quote is somebody's signature, for crying-out-loud. It's inspirational to somebody. Somebody reads this sentence and gains strength and resolve from it.

Can we declare this religion to be officially hepped-up on goofballs yet?
Thursday, July 4, 2002
22:46 - Just a few thoughts

This seems as good a time as any to quote some lines from Preacher:

I like this country, Jesse. I like baseball and whiskey and Mom's apple pie-- not my mom's apple pie, but you know what I mean-- and the Stars and Stripes, and John Wayne, and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

And I like the myth of the place. The myth of America: that simple, honest men, born of her great plains and woods and skies have made a nation of her, and will prove worthy of her when the time is right.

Under harsh light it is false. But a good myth to live up to, all the same.

These words, penned by English writer Garth Ennis-- who had been raised on Westerns starring John Wayne and Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood-- and spoken through the character of Gunther Hahn, a German expatriate who had once murdered civilians as part of a Nazi police battalion, but had come to live in Texas in the hope that he would be given a second chance by the country whose ideals really spoke to him-- are worth reviewing in these times. America isn't perfect; hell, it's far from it. We are, after all, a nation consisting of humans. But the mistakes we make are the mistakes anyone makes. There are evil people in every country, but this is one place where that kind of evil has never taken root to a degree where it pervades the lives of people who choose to live apart from it. We believe in small and simple things: individual choice, most notably. The choice to live however we choose, as long as it doesn't adversely affect the people around us. We believe in having fun, making money, and enjoying the fruits of our honest labors free of guilt, and we believe very strongly in giving a hand-up to anybody who thinks the same way we do. We know we're right, after all, and while we're not going to go out of our way to convince others of it, we'll give endlessly to those who are willing to make the same sacrifices we've made in pursuit of the same goals.

We're not perfect, and indeed there are a lot of things wrong with this country. So we feel pangs of guilt for crowing about our country's success and happiness and ideals. We're also hardly what anybody can call "embattled"-- after all, we've only really suffered the one major attack, and it was the better part of a year ago already; and even at that, it was perpetrated by a bunch of rag-tag schemers who got lucky, not by some omnipotent Matrix who can rain death on us at will. We have neither sympathy nor adoration flowing our way from the rest of the world, and so we tend to feel as though we don't have the right to feel proud of our country. Certainly we look at countries like, say, Germany-- where flying the flag is thought of as something only Nazis would do-- and our guilt forces us to think that we'd better follow suit. We take a lot of heat for acting "too American" and for exporting our culture to where it's not welcome.

But today-- bullshit, I say. We've seen the future; really, we saw it over 200 years ago, and today the vision is pretty much the same. We know we're right. We know we have the moral high ground.

Because deeds trump words-- and while some nations have to tell everybody of how moral and Chosen and righteous they are, and why they're the rightful inheritors of the stewardship of the planet... well, we're the ones who don't have to tell everybody that. We can show it. One has only to look.

And you know-- we're not so bad, really. Especially compared to the alternative.

In 1776, the vision was about baseball and whiskey and Mom's apple pie-- well, the conteporary equivalents, anyway. And today, what do we dream about? The same things, more or less. The concepts are the same. And over 200 years of chasing those concepts have made them into more than goals and dreams: they're our way of life. They're what we have as well as what we want. And that, friends, is called success.

It's all the proof Hahn needed; and it's more than enough for me to spend at least this one evening-- having just come down from the top of the hill after watching all of Silicon Valley ablaze with fireworks for over an hour, the sound of rolling thunder across the valley a sound of reassurance and celebration rather than of fear, and listening to Hindu and Sikh and Mexican and Vietnamese and Muslim and Thai families all up and down my neighborhood setting off illegal firecrackers that at this very moment are continuing to boom and crackle outside my window-- sitting back and enjoying it for its own sake. It's all the proof I need, too.

The nations that hate us do so because of jealousy. And that's nothing for us to be ashamed of. We are under no obligation to meet them halfway or come down to their level. They want to be jealous, that's their problem. But we don't need to lose a wink of sleep over it; it's their choice. We're forging ahead. If they don't want to come along, then they can get out of the way.

I need not elucidate what happens if they don't.

But those who do, if they're willing to see it as such, will have done the right thing. In every sense of the term.

19:29 - Celebrate the independence of your country by blowing up a small part of it!

Well, four hours to go-- and so far all we've had is a shootout at LAX and a small plane crash in San Dimas. And only the former seems to have a possibility of being connected with terrorism.

Then there's yesterday's stupefying arrest of Saddam Hussein's stepson on a visa violation, here to take aviation classes at the same school that taught the 9/11 hijackers.

Then there's the Central African Republic plane crash, which looks like an accident, and a Gaza car bomb, the latest in a series.

C'mon, you bastards. Is that all you've got? C'moooon.

13:17 - Freedom Is...


... People like Seanbaby being allowed to get away with the things he does in this article, and then write a four-page article will full photographic documentation describing the aftermath, and publish it for us to see.

12 hours down, and still nothing blown up that we didn't intend.

12:56 - Hooray for the USA


Further to Lileks' 4th of July Bleat, I must offer this further witness to the glory of the land we call home:

Tostitos SCOOPS.

Now through a breakthrough snack innovation, the TOSTITOS® brand introduces new TOSTITOS® SCOOPS!™ Tortilla Chips. TOSTITOS® SCOOPS!™ Tortilla Chips are the dip lover's chip. The bite size chip's unique shape holds more dip to deliver more flavor and crunch with every bite.

Meanwhile, that Islamic mailing list I got subscribed to (without any action on my part) is now full of people asking each other whether they're allowed to dissect rats or cook with wine. "How would you like it if I urinated on your food before cooking it, and then told you it had all been burned away?"

Happy 4th, everyone.
Wednesday, July 3, 2002
22:01 - Well, God damn...

How frickin' stupid are these people?

18:37 - Minority Report Report

Chris and I saw Minority Report last night, and I must say it's every bit as good as everyone has said. It's a lavish and surprising storyline with lots of very satisfying twists, the cinematography is somehow both rich and gritty, the casting and characterization is outstanding (the woman in the greenhouse merits buying the DVD all on her own), and the tech design is truly something to behold. I so dearly love it when a movie about The Future (2054 in this case, I believe) doesn't look entirely alien-- you know, a setting that looks about as odd to us as today's world would look to people in 1950. Yes, the infrastructure is somewhat different, there's a lot more technology in people's pockets and on people's desks-- but it's still all cars and roads and ice-cream cones. Likewise, in MR, the cars are ingeniously designed to fit into a chaotic but well-organized commuter structure, and they've got those transparent computer screens that moviemakers are so fond of-- sitting right alongside spray-bottles and lawn sprinklers and kids' bicycles and playground equipment that could just as easily have been bought in Wal-Mart today. That kitchen timer that the eye surgeon uses (another brilliant character, by the way) is styled like a timer from the 1970s, but with a luminous and interactive dial. Instead of the "future of the past" that the Rocket Age gave us (think Jetsons), here we have a future with retro. I love it.

Likewise, the virtual interface that the cops use to sort through the imagery they're fed is a brilliant piece of iconic humans-interacting-with-machines the like of which I haven't seen since Fritz Lang's Metropolis; it's the same kind of system of gestures, firm and forceful-- something of a three-way cross between Tae Kwon Do, cyborg-like mechanical movements, and the nuanced touch of a symphony orchestra conductor. (The classical music overlaying the scenes where Tom Cruise conjures up those images is just as effective as the warm chamber jazz in Cowboy Bebop-- which is to say, very much so.)

And there's so much unexpected humor in the movie. The way the quarrelling couple interacts with the spiders, the cereal box with the moving digital-ink logos-- the script smirks at you from beginning to end, not letting up even when the action gets heaviest. It's hard to suppress the giggles when Cruise tries to pull his old eyeballs out of a bag to show to the retina-scanners, and they roll down a slope and into a drain grating like a couple of prized aggies.


There's one problem with this movie, without which it would be drop-dead brilliant. (This is actually Chris' observation, but I'm sure he won't mind me broadcasting it-- after all, he doesn't have a blog; he just fact-checks mine's ass.) It's the last two minutes. The movie gets Spielberged. Right up to the last gunshot, the plot careens and power-glides, jerking the audience expertly back and forth... but then, right after that last shot, you'd better just stand up and walk out of the theater and not look back. Because everything gets tied up with a neat little warm and happy epilogue that feels entirely out of place. It's like hearing "And they lived happily ever after" at the end of The Terminator. As the credits rolled, Chris sat in his seat shouting at the screen: NOOOOOO! YOU BASTAAAARD! DAMN YOUUUUU!

...Incidentally, am I the only one who noticed that this movie and Harry Potter seemed to be cut from the same cloth? They both have funky tendril-vines that grab for you, and they both are packed full of pictures that move-- newspapers, cereal boxes, trading cards, wall ads, paintings. It's like Harry Potter is really just the future-- you know, because the technology in Minority Report is sufficiently advanced that we can't distinguish it from magic.

... Okay, maybe I should just shut up before I dig myself in waaay too deep.

18:00 - Tomorrow

The fireworks have already started going off. I heard and saw a lot of them last night. That's two full days early. I can't remember that ever happening before.

What do I think is going to happen tomorrow? I don't know. I suspect that there will be some kind of major attack attempted, but it will be foiled; and we probably won't find out about it until a month or so later.

Myself? I'll probably be staying home, maybe taking a ride through some backroads. If everything's still standing when I get back, I expect I'll feel pretty darn good.

17:56 - We'll show them what freely held elections are all about...

From Tal G:

Some other [Palestinian] demonstrators explained what the "right to decide" means:

"Any collaborator who would represent himself an alternative to [Arafat] will be executed in the public square," said the message, which echoed through the streets as armed men fired in the air.

See, there's the rub. "Peace negotiations" are a concept that depends on both sides willing to reach a compromise, mutual sacrifices and voluntary changes that allow both sides to retain a measure of their respective aims.

But... these people don't compromise. Everything's all-or-nothing. I hate to say it, but it is a black-and-white world to many, many people out there; and when one side persists in thinking that it's all about shades of gray, the other side (who sees it all in black-and-white) will cause a lot of people to die while we wait for the gray-shaders to define terms and write up resolutions.

These are the rules of this game. We either play using tactics that can win, or we change the rules altogether. We can't beat a bunch of football players if we arm ourselves with ping-pong racquets.

09:55 - The Word of Love Spreads

Mike at Cold Fury seems to have run across the now-semi-famous article by Courtney Love on record companies, Napster, and the RIAA, which has surfaced in a new location-- namely, her band Hole's own website.

Says Mike,

Maybe Courtney ought to take up blogging.

Yeah, check out the "News" box on holemusic.com's main page. Kinda looks like she's already doing that.

Which doesn't surprise me, really; Courtney's seemed to have a very progressive and admirable view of technology, from what I've seen-- kinda like discovering blogs by people like Ian McKellen. Love's article, to the best of my knowledge, was first published in Salon in June 2000, and it's been circulating back and forth since then, appearing here in this blog from time to time. I wonder if maybe I should see if I can set up a permalink to it so I can be doing my part to make sure everybody has a chance to read it.

I don't use her article to give myself carte blanche to steal music indiscriminately. I still think that's wrong, and will continue to be as long as our current system endures. But I do use the article to inform my opinion about what's going to happen to the music industry-- the record companies are going to have to undergo a catastrophic transformation if they're going to survive at all, and it's going to happen very soon. And in the meantime, I don't lose too much sleep over whether a stolen CD worth of MP3s is hurting the artists-- because I know from this that it's hurting only artists who "fear their own filler", as Love puts it, and it's hurting the labels a helluva lot more.

In all honesty, the first time I'd ever heard of Courtney Love was when I was reading this article; the only indication that I had of her being some kind of reviled figure in music was the lascivious picture of her at the top of the article in Salon. I figured she must be somebody that most people consider a ditzy blonde slut, and reading the article I was inclined to believe there's a lot more going on in her head-- in particular, a greatly sarcastic sense of irony-- than most people are likely to realize.

If this is the voice people need to hear delivering the message, hey, let it be so.
Tuesday, July 2, 2002
13:50 - Palladium Laid Bare

Newsweek's Steven Levy (most notably) broke the story of Microsoft's "Palladium" initiative-- the one where they propose to incorporate hardware-level public-key crypto authentication and digital-rights-management into every computer. However, if I'm reading this article by David Coursey aright, Levy's scoop was something that Microsoft had hoped not to have to talk about for a good long time yet.

But then some smart reporters--including Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft (a frequent radio guest of mine) and Newsweek's  Steven Levy--discovered that Microsoft had filed for a patent on an operating system with built-in digital rights management features.

Microsoft tried to keep a lid on the story for as long as possible. But after finding out that Levy was going to print something, the company invited him to Redmond for two days to hear the whole story. Even then, Microsoft didn't expect the story to run so soon. When it discovered that Levy's story was about to hit the streets, Microsoft barely had time to warn those of us who were maintaining our silence that the secret was almost out of the bag.

I'm telling you all this because Microsoft would have been better off staying silent on this one. The reports that are surfacing are going to raise many more questions than Microsoft has answers for.

I'm really starting to like Coursey. He's exactly what I like to see in the tech press: a reporter who's not afraid to go out, do some digging, try new things, and change his stance and opinions if what he finds disagrees with his preconceptions. No, he wasn't one of those who were taken up to Redmond for the emergency Palladium indoctrination-- but he's revealing something a good deal more important than what Microsoft has cobbled together by way of boilerplate; namely, the circumstances surrounding this scoop in the first place.

Levy, after all, didn't mention that Palladium wasn't supposed to have been announced this early or under these circumstances.

(Coursey'd always been a Windows guy, and fairly pro-Microsoft. He barely gave Apple a nod. But earlier this year, he undertook the now-famous "Month on a Mac", which extended to three months and perhaps longer because he didn't want to have to send his iMac back. He's now as likely as any Mac rumor site to write a column on Apple happenings, and he's as critical of Windows XP and Microsoft (and Palladium) as one could hope. And to dispel any accusations of favoritism, he spent a "Month on Linux", which recently ended; he concluded that Linux had a lot of things to recommend it, but not as a consumer desktop OS. No, he's a Mac guy now, at least in large part-- and presuming that Apple isn't paying him off, he's a prime example of someone who's willing to open his mind and have it changed through first-hand experience.)

Coursey's now interviewed the same people Levy has, and he's come to the same kinds of conclusions-- though, perhaps because he didn't go through the indoctrination procedure (evidently he was too busy being inculcated in the Tablet PC propaganda intended to convince him that the fact that Microsoft's handwriting recognition sucks Tiger Eyes is immaterial because "handwriting recognition doesn't matter"), his challenge to Microsoft is couched in more severe terms. Coursey isn't impressed. He wants answers to the questions that we're all asking: namely, what the hell business does Microsoft, the creator of 90% of all security holes in software today, have in undertaking to become the sole guardian of all of our digital identities and rights and capabilities and data? Who in their right mind trusts Microsoft to write security software?

The TalkBack people seem to agree with him, though I'm not reading anything but the titles on the posts. Nobody seems to have any faith in Microsoft's ability to pull this off-- the consensus is that this will be a disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nobody wants to see it happen. We know that computing will be fundamentally different in terms of security and privacy ten years from now-- but we know that Microsoft isn't the company we want to see do it.

And now that the cat's out of the bag early, there's time for the outrage to spread, and maybe do some good.
Monday, July 1, 2002

I just got a piece of unsolicited e-mail that appears to be a mailing-list subscription message; if I'm reading it right, I've just been signed up, quite without my knowledge, for a Yahoo group called "Ar Rahman ~The International Islamic Foundation".

The welcome message was blank; the group's goals seem to be about general Islamic discussion, prayer timetables and stuff-- nothing sinister on the surface.

Then there's this footer at the bottom of the intro message:


...Really? To what? From what?

I guess I'll see soon enough...

12:50 - Random Thought

Is it just me, or is there no less sexy thing you can possibly call someone than "baby"?

I mean, what the hell?

12:02 - California Dreamin'

You know, it's really sort of disconcerting to discover how disconnected one can become from general, popular, non-blogosphere-related opinion when one goes on vacation from the computer.

While in Nashville, for example, one friend that I met there-- who is otherwise a very fun guy, very talented and very sensible-- spent one car ride from one point to another on a little ranting tangent. It went sort of like this:

It's so ridiculous, this whole "War on Terrorism" thing. I mean, you declare war on a country, not a person-- and it was just one person behind 9/11. But no, now we're being condemned by every country in the world for going in and effectively nuking a third-world country-- I mean, what was the point of going in and bombing Afghanistan into the Stone Age? They were already in the Stone Age! ... And you know it's all just because we're helping out the Israelis. I don't understand why we're helping the Israelis in the first place...

"Because the Israelis are a capitalistic, freedom-loving democracy who has made the desert bloom, and the Muslim nations fighting against them are a bunch of medieval, fascistic, petty-warlord-based fanatical theocracies whose stated goal is the destruction of the West", I didn't say. No, I bit my tongue in the interest of harmony. But nobody's keeping me from blogging this.

I must admit, Nashville wasn't a place where I would have expected to find rampant anti-globo and anti-Zionist and anti-US-policy flowing. I come from Silicon Valley to Tennessee and find myself in a liberal swing so hard the wheel's locked against the stop? Whatever. But it seems to me that if one doesn't look terribly hard at the details behind any of the news that filters by on CNN's headline crawl, it's pretty easy to conclude that we deserve every blown-up building in New York or Tel Aviv. After all, quoting Churchill out of context is always a quick and easy way to appear cultured; talk about making the rubble bounce, and you're sure to get people nodding sagely about how stupid we are to have done anything but declare the 19 hijackers to have been adequately punished for their crimes by the suicide itself, and since they obviously acted alone, do nothing to root out any so-called state-sponsored terrorist organization that may or may not have sent them.

But, like I said, I didn't say a word. And if it's any consolation to me, most everybody else in the group seemed to be sitting in a throat-clearing silence as well, and a quick change of subject got things rolling again. But I tell you, I'm glad for more reasons than just the humidity to be back in California.

While we were on the disc golf course, I was musing to one of the guys about how no matter how expensive it is to rent housing around here, I'd still rather live in California than anywhere else. He looked genuinely surprised, and wanted to know why. I hadn't really thought about it, actually, and as I lined up my shot all I could say was, "The weather rocks, the food is excellent, and the people rule."

But I've traveled now to every part of the US except for Alaska, and I can say quite confidently that living anywhere else is just not something I could imagine. Maybe Oregon or Washington, sure-- but there's just something special about this state, whether our governor is corrupt and our power is expensive and in short supply or not.

Maybe it's the landscape. The mountains around here are spectacular, I'm sorry-- and it isn't until I visit other areas of the country (e.g. the South), where the landscape is one anonymous wooded rolling hill after another, where you can't see any interesting topography on the horizon, where the lenticular haze in the air makes distant clouds fade into indistinct light-gray ghosts at the edge of vision, where the only interesting objects breaking up the line of trees are the sixty-foot fast-food restaurant signs that cluster around freeway exits like redwood groves-- that I understand just how special a thing it is to see burly and severe hills thirty or forty miles away, the fog rolling over them through the low passes, the detail on their sides and around the edges of the fog and clouds as crisp as though they were right above your head. Being able to drive up Quimby Road and see the dark and light patches on Mt. Tamalpais north of the Golden Gate, sixty miles away, is something that makes my heart race. Maybe not everybody's... but mine, yes indeed it does.

Maybe it's that in the urban areas, space is at such a premium that the roads themselves take on personalities. Go ten miles outside the Bay Area and suddenly you're in rural farmland-- but within the city, each street has a history and a face. Lawrence Expressway. Montague Expressway. San Tomas Expressway. El Camino Real. You can stand on a Civil War battlefield and know that the Blue and the Gray fought right there on that spot-- but somehow it isn't as real as standing on a bustling commuter artery that you know two hundred years ago connected the Spanish missions up and down the coast, and was just as vital a thoroughfare as it is today.

Maybe it's that here, people are friendly but not invasive. Stand at a bus stop with strangers, and you'll get smiles and nods all around, but no boisterous and paternal conversation or stories about people's home lives. Everybody here is understood to be a mover and/or a shaker, and we figure that if that person over there wanted to be talked to, he or she would have said so. So: no outright hostility, á la New York. No insincere, forced smarminess, what a friend called "Minnesota Friendly" while I was visiting him in Minneapolis. No eerie sense that you're being sized up and judged, like in the South. Just laid back live-and-let-live.

But probably what it is, most of all, is the weather. Where else but LA can you wear shorts and a t-shirt at 4:00 in the morning in January? Where else but LA or San Jose (or, well, Hawaii) can you live comfortably in a house that has neither central heating nor air conditioning? In the South, I've found, the rain likes to leap out from behind doors, dump buckets on you, kick you in the balls, and then run away. Lightning storms are the rule, not the exception; over the course of a day you can expect to see it go from partly-cloudy to thundering rainstorm to tornado-watch and back, all without the temperature dropping below 90. But in California, if it's going to rain, you know it: it comes over the horizon, squaring its shoulders, rubs its hands together, and says, "Hey! I'm gonna rain now!" The people yell back, "Okay!" And then the rain goes about its business, gets everything nice and soaked for two or three days, wrings itself out, and leaves. "See you in November!" it calls back over its shoulder.

I know it pisses people off no end to hear Californians talk about "dry heat", but honestly I have to say that it's got to be one of the most fundamental issues behind regional personality differences in this country. The weather here is our friend. I can walk around outside in 114-degree heat on an August day in Ukiah, because the humidity is under 25%. But in Atlanta or Nashville, 85 degrees is unbearable, and 95 is agony. We came out of an air-conditioned Murfreesboro video store a couple of nights ago into what I thought was going to be the cool night air. But instead of feeling a crisp breeze prickling my skin, my glasses fogged up. I'm serious. A cloud had just done a drive-by raining at the intersection there about an hour before, and now the air was so laden with moisture and so hot that it was like stepping into a particularly aggressive sauna.

I don't mean to degrade an entire region for its weather; I really don't. But to have to scuttle painfully from doorway to car, and from car to doorway, hoping your anti-perspirant holds out for just one more minute until you can get to the shelter of the vents-- that's just no way to live. Skulking in fear of the very air, from air-conditioned haven to air-conditioned haven-- it's enough to make one wonder, as one of the guys living there even said, how anybody ever survived there before air conditioning existed. I wonder what life there was like when that technology was brand-new and just being adopted?

I have to say, though, that I can see what kinds of personalities can come from these different kinds of climates. In California, the weather isn't your enemy. It goes about its business, you go about yours-- and so the people behave similarly. But in the South, and indeed in the Midwest and some parts of the East Coast, or anywhere where the humidity is that oppressive-- well, growing up where air conditioning is an inextricable part of life, and where rain can come kung-fu kicking at you from any direction at any time, I can easily see how one might grow up spoiled, dependent upon technology, unwilling to bear hardships in the natural world if there's any choice in the matter. Those people who are able to hike or jog or even play golf in such an environment I admire greatly, and in particular those who are able to cultivate an appreciation for the natural world against a backdrop where that world so vividly represents an adversary. But if you're looking for a reason why religion seems to have taken such hold in the South, I say that the weather's got to have a lot to do with it. In no other region is it so apparent that we're at the mercy of higher powers, and that God-- with his air-conditioned churches-- is on our side.

I don't mean to sound as though I hate these other regions. I don't. Indeed, if it weren't for the humidity (and possibly the church density), I'd find Nashville to be a charming and livable place. But ... well, you know, getting off the plane in San Jose, standing next to the shuttle bus to long-term parking with the sun beating down on me and yet my hands remaining dry and not a drop of sweat on me-- when I ask my brain what the possibility would be of my moving away, its immediate response is, What, are you nuts?

Sunday, June 30, 2002
20:38 - Back to the routine...

I'm back from a nice long weekend visiting friends in the Nashville area. I enjoyed it a great deal-- playing disc golf, watching movies, meeting all kinds of new people who all seemed to know who I was-- quite an unusual experience, but not one I'm going to complain about.

Well, except for one thing: This trip did nothing to quell my hatred and loathing for cell phones. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Overall a trip to remember. And now back to the bit mines...
Thursday, June 27, 2002
08:25 - Justice is served

What do I think of MCI/WorldCom folding? Good riddance, I say. They put those horrible long-distance phone ads on my TV, and they used Anderson to do their books-- the preferred method of late-90s conglomerates for Making $$$ Fast. Serves 'em right.

I refuse to give any of my money to any of these leeches who put ads with Carrot Top and Mr. T and Alf on TV. I swear, long-distance phone company ads are the worst thing about TV in this day and age, far worse than sex or violence or even the current season of Dexter's Lab. My phone exists for me to order pizza once a week, and I have absolutely no interest in using it for any purpose beyond that. I call long-distance maybe once a month. I can eat the bloody three bucks or whatever it is. If they want me to change that, they'd better get those damned ads off my TV.

No sympathy at all. Here's hoping AT&T or whoever does 1-800-COLLECT is next.

08:13 - Legacy of the 50s

The answering machine of the atheist plaintiff in the Pledge of Allegiance case has been overflowing with "personal and scary" messages ever since the verdict was handed down; he's had to move his daughter, whom he was originally concerned with being "injured" by having to say under God, to a "safe place".

Now, even though I'm about as non-religious as they come, and a fierce proponent of the separation of church and state, I agree that this verdict was ridiculous and should be overturned. We made our bed in 1954, and now we have to lie in it.

But, you know, I don't think it speaks very well of religious people's supposed ethical superiority for them to be leaving death threats on someone's answering machine.

He's not Salman Rushdie, you know.

08:10 - Itty Bitty Nitty-Gritty Committee

(Posting wirelessly from the airport, I am.)

With the G8 conference going on near Calgary, there's a group of anti-globalization protesters near there called the "Revolutionary Knitting Committee". They're sitting on the steps of the government buildings and knitting scarves and sweaters; their message is that "not all your clothes have to come from massive corporations".

Do these people have anything useful to contribute?

Knit me a pair of jeans for less than $20 and we'll talk. Then do it for each of my quarter billion friends, and see if you can still do it as a gathering of kindly little grannies with knitting needles, instead of becoming (gasp) a giant corporation.

You pathetic twits.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
00:14 - I'm outta here...

Unless anything earth-shattering happens in the morning, this is probably the last post I'll be making until Sunday night; I'll be out on vacation until then. Here's hoping the world hangs together...
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
00:37 - Great. They let the Visionary Intel PC designers have a go at the WTC.


I don't know what the story is with these proposed WTC designs that Isntapundit (note spelling carefully) quite rightly stones to death here, but the WTC2002 design is looking better and better by comparison.

If this is what the architectural art world is like today, I'm tempted to imagine what we'd have been seeing if 9/11 had occurred in, say, 1959.

One shudders, then vomits, then shudders again.

00:24 - Oh. Right.

Pursuant to the scanner tale... Chris and I were on the way to a movie. I was telling him about SilverFast, which I described as having "more features than I could shake a fucking stick at."

As I continued talking about it, Chris waited for a breath-pause to ask, "By the way-- can I borrow your fucking-stick?"

"I'm not done shaking it yet," I said.

We'd parked at the theater before we both stopped laughing.

...What? So we're easily amused.

11:35 - And then there's the Tablet PC...

Journalists are starting to get their hands on Microsoft's tablet PC-- you know, the one they announced last year in the same week that Sony discontinued theirs due to nonexistent sales.

Handwriting recognition is supposed to be a big thing in the Tablet PC-- "best in the business", say the PR goons.

BEFORE YOU HIT those reviews, let me tell you that Microsoft forced us reviewers to sit through a day and a half of propaganda before it would hand over the test machines. The basic message of this indoctrination (which I understand the North Koreans could have accomplished in six hours or less) is simple: "Handwriting recognition doesn't matter."

Repeat that to yourself for a couple of days, and you'll be right where Microsoft wants you: Ready to accept a Tablet PC with way-less-than-perfect handwriting recognition but a vastly improved system for handling electronic ink on electronic paper. If this is enough for you--and it will be for many users--Tablet PC will make you happy.

Handwriting recognition doesn't matter. Handwriting recognition doesn't matter. Handwriting recognition doesn't matter.

Hmm. I wonder if John Manzione is convinced yet?

THE COMPANY CLAIMS its handwriting recognition is the best in the industry, which it may well be. But, even in Microsoft's own demonstrations, the technology doesn't work very well. Among other things, it's hampered by the most awkward method of making corrections that I've ever seen. Try picking the word you intended from a long list of nonsense "words" that use the same letter combinations, and you have the general idea.

Microsoft's handwriting reco doesn't learn by doing, either, so it won't get any better at mastering your particular handwriting over time. As it is, you can change your handwriting for the recognition engine if you like--just don't expect it to change for you. And people (like me) who print are especially out of luck: The reco is intended for cursive script only.

But remember: "Handwriting recognition doesn't matter."

The Newton is remembered best for its Doonesbury parody-- in fact, in the future, that may well be what Doonesbury is best remembered for, too. It was the height of the comic and an unmitigated coup for the forces of ridicule. No matter how loudly anyone yelled that the Newton's handwriting recognition learned over time and took into account things like printing vs. script characters and eventually became extremely, even uncannily, accurate, it was much more fun in the tech press to gleefully point and laugh at how silly the mistranslations were when you first took the thing out of the box.

What a user-experience nightmare. Can you imagine trying to sell a product that worked worst when it was brand-new? In a world where the first five minutes are absolutely crucial in forming a rapport between a customer and the gadget, trying to promote a product that learned about you while you learned about it had to have been a terrible, thankless task. What a heartbreak to see it so reviled by people who, quite literally, never gave it a chance.

But at least it could handle printed letters, not just cursive. And if Microsoft's software doesn't learn over time, it's taking the easy way out-- but it'll probably sell more. Isn't that a great microcosm of the whole Microsoft-Apple schism, right there? One company "does it right", but there are complications with "doing it right" that make people shun it in the marketplace. The other company copies it, does a shoddy job, but focuses on features that sell well-- and it wins the pot.

Seeing this happen over and over again is what makes me both so bitter about Microsoft's success, and so determined not to see Apple's good deeds go unrewarded. There must be justice in this world, somewhere.
Monday, June 24, 2002
02:05 - This conspiracy goes all the way to the top...

Some of us aspire merely to be mentioned in passing by our friends in their blogs or LiveJournals. Some of us are tickled pink to be noticed by Steven den Beste or Glenn Reynolds. But...

LILEKS IN CONGRESS! A reader just emailed that Rep. Tom Tancredo was reading from Lileks' latest Screed on the House floor a few minutes ago.

And here I was worried about how carefully I'd have to watch my writing if I knew that more than a few people in my own social circle were reading it. Congress? Good Lord... I don't know what I'd be feeling if I were James right about now.

16:02 - Just going over some old chestnuts...

I was reading the Olive Garden Screed again-- just dancing blithely down the park-path of halcyonity that is online journalism since last fall-- and a thought occurred to me.
"And from the Olive Garden it does seem very distant. Indeed, the whole messy and diverse concept of Europe seems very distant.
Around Birmingham, there is nothing but miles and miles of Alabama."

Apparently around Birmingham England, there is nothing but miles and miles of Belgium, Thailand and the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

Lileks' giggle-fit-inducing rejoinder notwithstanding, I had to wonder something: What does a British person think of the vastness of American territory? What must it be like, coming from a country where you can drive from one end to the other in a day, picking up an atlas of the Lower 48 States and trying to imagine what it's like to live in such a place?

The big cities are probably easy to imagine. Cities are epicenters of activity. Everything you need can be found in any city. A city in a country 3000 miles across isn't that different from London or Paris, not in terms of day-to-day living. It's when you start to get out into those big middle-of-nowhere regions on the map that it starts to get weird. Where do all those long, curving interstates lead to? What's out there in ... Montana? Utah? Kansas? What are people like there? Do they even speak the same language we do?

In fact, coming from England, where one can drive a hundred miles and find oneself surrounded by people whose accent is completely incomprehensible, no doubt it's terrifying to imagine what that difference can be, magnified a hundred times.

To a Brit, America must look the way Siberia or the Australian outback looks to us: a vast, unexplored wasteland, full of mountain ranges and rivers and forests and rampaging tribes of lawless natives, when you're lucky to find traces of humanity at all. It's the realm of loggers and trappers, mountain men and crazy religious isolationists. It's nowhere that a civilized person would go.

But that's just it: that's what's so extraordinary about America. You can travel 3,000 miles and find less difference in people's attitudes, language, and beliefs than you'd find in 100 miles of travel in England or Europe. You can go to the middle of Idaho or Nevada and find every evidence of the thorough penetration of infrastructure: well-maintained roads, post offices, tract homes, 7-11s, new cars, high-speed Internet. You're just as likely to find some blogging technologist in Butte, Montana as you are to find him in Silicon Valley. Rural America might seem eerily menacing to anyone who has seen Deliverance, but even the backwoods of Kentucky have clean restrooms in the gift shops of the Points of Historical Interest that dot the highways, and everybody speaks intelligible English and mows their lawns and washes their cars.

The uniformity of America is a phenomenon in and of itself-- it's not just a "default" condition, an inevitable result of people not caring enough about their regions' traditions to want to fragment into tribes and evolve into freaky mountain people. It's the result of the unique variables that led to America's formation in the first place-- this specific point in technological and political history-- coinciding with a vast territory being overrun by Europeans desperate for land (and willing to shove the existing native people into a ditch in order to get it), every one of those people bearing the same seeds of entrepreneurship that originally got this country moving. The fact that a burger tastes the same in Minnesota as it does in Arizona is not a failing on the part of America's people to all develop their own ideas about what's important; it's the natural result of a people's common goal realized at the personal level, the desire to succeed and to achieve. We're a people determined to maximize what each of us individually can do, and we happen to have an almost incomprehensibly big agar dish on which we can do it. With such a food-rich environment, small wonder we've become as productive and as greedy and as gluttonous as insatiable for more achievement as we have.

So when a Wal-Mart or an Olive Garden springs up in Butte or Birmingham, where some might see a sitcom parody of authentic culture or mercantile, I see another unprecedented phenomenon-- one of those things that seems weird and scary to anyone who didn't grow up in the middle of it, but which to us is the most natural thing in the world. It's not inherently evil; it's just different from everything that's come before.

15:23 - What, you thought they were going to stop with .NET?

I'm not wild about the attitude and tone of this Register article (I'm getting vibes of unpleasantness from lots of their writers lately), but the gist of this article deserves attention.

According to Levy, Palladium is a hardware and software combination that will supposedly seal information from attackers, block viruses and worms, eliminate spam, and allow users to control their personal information even after it leaves their computer. It will also implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) for movies and music to allow users to exercise 'fair use' rights of such products. Palladium will essentially create a proprietary computing environment where Microsoft is the trusted gatekeeper, guard, watchstander, and ruler of all it surveys, thus turning the majority of computing users into unwilling corporate serfs and subjects of the Redmond Regime.

Yeah, and just wait'll Palladium is part of everybody's Windows machine-- and then gets hacked. Because it will. You know it will. Microsoft can't make a piece of rock-solid security software all of a sudden now, when for twenty years they've been unable to do that no matter how hard they've tried. Do you want to be in the vicinity when someone gains access to the desktops and hardware of every single Windows machine on Earth?

What's really frightening is the speed with which Microsoft's ventures in this direction are gaining in audacity and scope. Monopoly convictions or no, they're planting one foot firmly in front of the other and stomping off toward the goal of having Passport membership and Windows usership codified into U.S. law, thereby making Windows the only legal OS to run.

Couple that with the laws as they've been passed lately and the more recent Hollings-esque propositions, and you've got the makings of a world where software makers are liable for damages caused by their software-- a world in which open-source development would be impossible. With customers forbidden from revealing security flaws in software and software makers forced to protect themselves with huge legal defense bodies, soon the only people who can develop software will be the huge corporations. Individual people will be denied the right to publish software they've written themselves, and the egalitarian revolution of software will plummet to earth just as it's beginning to take flight. Meanwhile, who benefits? Why, Microsoft, naturally.

So it's now obvious where Windows will be in five years, and where Bill hopes to take it. Who's willing to stand up and shout in favor of this future? Anybody?

14:53 - What it all comes down to is...

Eric Raymond has the third part of his piercing look at Islam posted.

We will not be prepared to win the war against Islamic terror until we understand the following things:
  • Islam is a religion of war and conversion by the sword, not peace.
  • The primary threat of terrorism comes from Arabs and middle-easterners between the ages of fifteen and forty, and we must summon the will to profile accordingly.
  • We are dealing with religious fanaticism rather than rational grievances against America or the West.
  • Our enemies cannot be reasoned with or appeased anywhere short of surrender and submission to shari'a law.
  • Apologists for mainstream Islam are systematically lying to us about Islamic doctrine in order to shield terrorists who they know are acting in strict accordance with that doctrine.

The hardest challenge for Americans is to grasp is the fact that the evil of the 9/11 hijackings, the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the threat of al-Qaeda weapons of mass destruction set off in American cities is not simply the evil of al-Qaeda. It is in fact the Koranically-correct expression of the tendency of Islam (Sunni fundamentalism) which is has been pre-eminent through most of Islamic history and now encompasses over 90% of the worlds Muslims.

We need to face the fact that we are confronting not just a barbaric and evil group of men, but a barbaric and evil religion. To protect ourselves, we must either force the complete reform of Islam (purging it of jihadism and its tendency towards periodic fundamentalist outbreaks) or destroy its hold over its followers...

To win the war on terror, we must understand jihadism and clearly distinguish it from ethical self-defense. We must be prepared not merely to counter fanaticism not merely by killing the fanatical in self-defense, but also by discrediting the doctrines and habits of thought that make fanatics in the first place -- whether they occur in the other guy's religion or our own. Islam has declared itself the immediate adversary of modernity -- but more than one world religion will have to go under the knife before our children can sleep in peace.

Pause a bit. Let this all sink in.

Ready? Good. Let's move on.

What Raymond is saying, then-- and what more and more people in the blogosphere, like Mike Hendrix, are coming to terms with-- is that our terrible choice is becoming clearer with each passing day. We must choose one of exactly two options:
  1. Surrender utterly to the will of fundamentalist Islam, or
  2. Destroy religion.

That's right... that's what it comes down to. The sad, tragic fact is that no matter how we try to rationalize the things that are happening in the world, we're on the brink of something unspeakably huge. We're engaged not in a war of economics or oil or land or oppression. We're engaged in perhaps the most significant war in all human history, a war of ideals-- on the one side, science and reason and secular humanism (which for lack of a better catch-all concept I'll call "science")... and on the other side, religion and blind faith and fanaticism and superstition (which for lack of a better catch-all concept I'll call "religion").

We've been fighting this war on the popular level for hundreds of years now, ever since the Renaissance and the rise of the middle class in Europe. Before that time, there was no science-- that was the realm of alchemists and ancient Greeks, and only those results of it that were irrefutable became codified by the religious incumbents, and what was left over was dismissed and shunned. Why not, after all? It's not like it really offered any answers that were better than what the priests had.

But times are different now. Scientific thought is respected, not distrusted-- it has taken us to the moon and fired nuclear power plants. It has leveled Japanese cities and given us flying buses that carry thousands of people around the world every day. None of these very tangible advances owe the slightest thing to the old religious thinkers, whose only purpose now seems to be to tell us which of those advancements we're allowed to use and which we aren't. They can't create anything of their own except rules.

We've been fighting minor skirmishes in this conflict now throughout the history of our country, getting more and more frequent with each new advancement. Roe vs. Wade. Brown vs. Board of Education. Free-speech issues polarize those who want the right to speak against those who want to suppress it, and in most cases these tiny debating figures cast vast shadows on the back walls of the hall: the shadows of these two forces that we're now beginning to see for what they are. The two biggest ideas humans have ever had.

These two ideas have never lived pleasantly together. But now their disagreements have reached a fever pitch; religion has fired the first shot of the full-scale war in the form of the jetliners in New York, and science must now decide whether to fight back or whether to back down and give up all of its hard-earned gains.

I don't think it's going to do so. As anathema as it is for a true follower of Islam to refuse the call to jihad as stated in the Koran, it is just as much so for science to retreat from what it knows to be true. And so the two sides are going to dig in and make their stand, preparing for a pitched battle that will begin just as soon as the participants become willing to accept the magnitude of this war and the choices we are going to have to make.

Those of us who see where this is all going tend to be agnostics and students of science (the two concepts are very much intertwined-- science is founded on logic and the ability to observe facts, and so by definition a scientist cannot "know" that there is or is not a God). We recognize the importance of religion in helping people to live their daily lives, to see beauty in an otherwise dreary and stark world, to hope for something to reward them for a life of hardships and struggle. It's a powerful human tendency, and we're not immune to its allure. Some of the best scientists I've known have been devoutly religious; to them, math and physics reveal part of God's mind and thereby a beauty unfathomable by ordinary humans. You know what? We believe that too; only we have different names that we give God. It's all to do with how we envision our roles in the Universe and how we go about unlocking the mysteries around us. God, to most of us, is that best part of each of us-- that piece of ourselves that makes us want to be good human beings and bring hope and light to our world. Nathan Lane's Catholic priest character in Jeffrey described it as a bunch of people at a picnic, batting a balloon around. Every time the balloon is just about to touch the ground... someone always reaches out to tap it back up. That balloon-- that's God.

But there's a big difference between that balloon and religious fanaticism. And that's what we have now come to realize is the enemy like none we have ever faced before. Organized religion, the drive to band together in huge groups and follow to the letter a document that advocates fiery and bloody death to nonbelievers-- that's the opposite of God; it's the absolute antithesis of what religion at its best is supposed to be about. And ever since September 11, we have known exactly what happens when religious fanaticism gains enough power on a global scale to take literally the prophetic words that call believers to arms. I've been writing since that day about how 9/11 is not a crime perpetrated merely by Muslim extremists, but by religion in general-- fundamentalist fanaticism of any stripe that decides that the threat posed by freedom and science and reason makes those things a worthy target for horrific fiery jihad. It happened to be the Muslims in this phase of history. In another, it could have been the Christians or the Jews or the Buddhists. When religion ceases to be one's personal relationship with God and becomes a cause worth dying for, then the true face of evil takes shape.

That is what attacked us in September. That is what is readying more attacks on us for the near future. And that is what we must realize is the enemy that we've been building ourselves up to fight for centuries. Galileo, Newton, Martin Luther, Copernicus, Franklin, Jefferson, Adam Smith, Lincoln, Watson and Crick, Einstein-- It's all been for this coming confrontation; the one that will define the future of humanity.

According to Mike,

But what if the unthinkable might possibly be true? What if the problem is not restricted access to the fruits of life in a relatively free and secular society, but a deeply-rooted and (in the case of Muslim fundamentalists) religion-mandated opposition to a free and secular society itself? A hatred and mistrust of the things we assume everybody naturally desires? At that point, the sanctified liberal idea of the sameness and unity of all human beings, no matter their culture or philosophy, falls apart. And, in falling apart, the liberal ideal leaves us with a bigger and more insuperable moral hole to fill in: how do you defend yourself against that which you cannot even comprehend? How does a society, any society, defend itself against an enemy it cannot or will not recognize? When even the validity of the concept of having an "enemy" in the first place is questioned, what do you do when the guns start firing and the bombs start going off in your neighborhood?

That's when we start having to choose sides for good. Those who refuse to come down on one side or the other aren't going to benefit from either side's victory. But in the meantime, they're the ones who are keeping us from seeing the real scale of this battle-- a scale that the other side already sees all too clearly. They're already operating on that scale. They're already attuned to images like giant buildings falling down in columns of fire. But we weren't, and we still aren't. That's why disbelief that 9/11 could have happened still hangs over us, and now takes the form of wishing to think of it as a fluke, a freakish aberration in history that nobody-- not even the enemy-- could countenance doing again.

That's just it, though. They can do it again, and they will. It will likely take another attack on the order of 9/11 or bigger to make us see that.

Fortunately, we on the side of science/reason/freedom have an advantage: the things that we believe in work. Science is on our side, and rewards us in ways that Allah does not reward his followers. We're the ones creating the weapons; the other side merely benefits from our ability to provide them. So in the long term, if we decide to escalate this war to the level that the fanatics believe they've already taken it, we will win. But only if we do acknowledge that those are the stakes.

Go to www.islam.org, where you will find a poll that shows you that the vast majority of the site's users believe that the "war on terror" is really, and has always been, a War on Muslims (or a War on Islam). They've been of this mind since the Eleventh. No matter how loudly we tried to proclaim that what we were fighting was terrorism, the enemy used every opportunity to give us to know that they considered Islam to be the victim of our retaliation. That troubled us deeply at the time. It still feels viscerally wrong. But the fact is that Muslims have felt themselves to be under attack ever since 9/11 because they had every reason to expect that they would be-- in terms of jihad, it was absolutely sensible for the West to declare war not on terrorism but on Islam itself. That makes jihad all the more righteous.

And so in turning to face the realities of this upcoming war and stare it in the eyes, we are going to have to ready not only our technology and our science in our defense, but we will have to use the very strengths of freedom and secularism to bolster them on the side where we are specifically being attacked. We have words. We have the ability to use words in a way that they're not allowed to, in a way that they can't fathom. We can barrage the world with ideas. We can blog to the high heavens. We can use flowery and poetic language like Suleiman Abu Gheith and friends. We can parody and satire and Photoshop our way into the minds of anybody with eyes and ears. We can fight on their terms, using the same ideological weapons that they use-- plus a little of our own poison of reason and logic-- to shatter any house of cards that they build up in front of themselves.

They want to fight a war of symbols? They think destroying the World Trade Center will make the United States incapable of trading with the world? Ha-- we'll show them what destroying a symbol is all about.

We've endured the WTC's destruction with anger and sorrow, but without a mosquito's wing's worth of damage to our strength as a nation or our financial power or our core values of freedom and reason. Can Islam withstand the destruction of the Ka'aba with the same resolve and stolid strength?

No, we probably won't actually do this. But can Islam risk it? Is that gamble worth this price-- is the destruction of another American symbol that important? And what symbol do they think will be more important to us than the World Trade Center and its 2833 civilian victims?

Our weapons are poised, and all we need is an excuse. Maybe posing a non-ignorable threat on their own terms, as in the picture at the right, will force a stalemate-- and a stalemate is the best we can hope for at this stage. But once we have the go-ahead to fire, we'll be committing to the greatest war of ideas this world has ever witnessed. It truly will be Armageddon.

UPDATE: Steven den Beste wrote about these issues, just five days after the attacks; he puts it in the terms that Theocracy is just the latest in a string of forms of authoritarianism which we have fought and will conquer: Slavery, Monarchy, Fascism, Communism. I wonder, though, whether Theocracy is possibly the oldest of all these (except possibly Slavery)-- and the most potentially upsetting to humanity as a whole when we engage it in war?

Also, den Beste's essay doesn't go to the extreme of our having to attack Islam, by name, on its own terms. That's something we're only just now seeming to want to discuss.

Sunday, June 23, 2002
16:59 - And here we ban firecrackers.

Honestly, this defies commentary.

A wedding feast in north-east Pakistan turned to carnage after a mortar shell launched in celebration misfired, killing 21 people, including the bridegroom.

More than 40 guests were wounded in the accident, which happened in the village of Korez, 250 kilometres (180 miles) south-west of the border city of Peshawar.

Local officials said guests had been "joyously" firing their weapons in the air in a traditional act of celebration, when one of the groom's relatives loaded the mortar "upside-down".

What could I possibly say that could add to this?
Friday, June 21, 2002
16:26 - Site stats

Mike says:

As I said to Steven, it really ain't all about who gets the most hits, and I try not to gauge what I do by how many folks read it, but it is definitely nice to be appreciated, and any blogger who claims not to regularly check his site stats is a liar.

I dunno, I have yet to check mine...

Honestly, I have no interest in knowing how many people are reading this site-- I'm operating on the assumption that only two or three people are, and beyond that the prospects get kinda creepy. I suspect that I would change my writing habits if I knew more people were reading me, and I don't want to run that risk.

So I'm content in gauging this blog's popularity by second-hand factors such as how much e-mail I get (next to none, usually) and whether I happen to stumble across somebody who's got me in their blogroll. Beyond that I say, "Who's counting?"

14:24 - There is a difference

With this weekend's Lileks Screed in mind, and after meandering through a few discussions in blogland (the latest of which express fresh outrage over the death of Gal, the sweet-faced little girl at the bottom of today's Bleat), I find that the biggest ideological confrontation going on these days seems to be between the outrage of people who want to see the Palestinians defeated (and then rewarded with a state, as with Japan), and the caution of people who see such talk as being tantamount to Naziism.

I tell you, though, I'm getting awfully sick of that accusation. Especially coming from people whose forebears didn't exactly take such caution to heart themselves.

There is a fundamental difference between American public anger against Islamic fundamentalism, and Nazi anti-Semitism. I would have thought that was obvious, but apparently it's not. Evidently the very fact that our enemies seem to speak a common language and worship the same God is enough to make any attack upon them, even a self-defensive one, "racist" and therefore the work of evil monsters.

Take another look, if you will, at Michael Trossman's post from a few days ago-- or read it now if you missed it the first time. Consider how it was that Hitler came to power. Consider the national mood that codified anti-Semitism into law. And imagine that happening in America today with Muslims.

Doesn't really work, does it?

No, because the situations are entirely different.

Hitler wanted to kill the Jews because-- well, because of a personal grudge, evidently. Because it would help him leverage the will of the people to vault himself into power-- find a cheap and easy scapegoat, something that the country can feel that it's "cleansing" itself of by scouring it from within themselves, after which they can consider themselves "pure". Hitler's method was to dig up old racial libels, make propagandistic films, play on Germany's humiliation in the aftermath of WWI, and create a mythological "fatherland" that didn't really exist yet-- but that was only because of this one straw-man obstacle, this enemy-in-our-midst, which-- if they're rounded up and wiped out-- means that the German people would become the rightful inheritors of the Earth.

An ingenious plan, and one that came damned close to working, too.

But for anybody to claim that that's the motivation of the Americans who want to see an end brought to militant Islam-- well, that takes a person with an agenda, an anti-American axe to grind. Because even the most perfunctory glimpse can reveal that it isn't the case.

If America were to go to war against Islam-- a far-fetched concept in itself, because no matter how much proof were offered to the world community of Islam's harmful nature with respect to the modern planet, nobody would endorse us in it-- we would be doing it with deep regret, searching desperately for an alternative right up to the very last minute. We would destroy only the most strategic targets, taking only the bare minimum of lives necessary to remove the threat posed by those who consider 9/11 only to be the first stroke in a grand holy war. We would stop attacking the instant it became clear that the threat had been neutralized in a way that would last. (If that ends up meaning that all of Islam has to be undermined, well, we would deeply regret that too-- but it isn't our fault that Islam was founded with the principles that it was. It predates us. And so we won't stop short of that goal if that's what it takes.)

Hitler took on the Jews for no good reason-- where were the Jewish suicide bombers in Munich and Dresden? Where were the angry Jewish mobs calling for German blood? Where were the militant Jewish factions preaching a bloody end to the European races? Nowhere. Hitler simply needed a scapegoat for political gain, and the Jews were a convenient target. Hitler hated the Jews for ideological and political reasons, not for living historical ones. He hated the Jews for what they were, not for anything they did.

And that's what made his racism evil.

But we are going to war out of self-defense. We've been attacked, and we know that more attacks are coming-- they've only been prevented so far by intense efforts both at home and abroad. It's a sad fact that our enemy is a race, or more accurately (and more troublesome), a religion-- how do we target that enemy without being "racist"? We're bound to get these accusations, but that's the magnitude of the dichotomy that's been thrust upon us. It's really that big a decision to have to make.

We're on the brink of a new sea change in thought regarding race, religion, fascism, democracy, and the like, on the same scale as the one that Hitler brought to the world-- if World War II marked the beginning of the age of the sensibilities we've all known (tolerance, political correctness, anti-discrimination, the "Noble Redman", and the big enemy being Communism), 9/11 has marked the beginning of a new age that's just as important to recognize. A history book written in the year 3000 will use the same bold-face heading to describe World War II and whatever 9/11 has now touched off.

And now, while al Qaeda regroups in countries surrounding Afghanistan and plots the Next Big Move, the Palestinians prove that giving them their own state is not only no longer deserved, but a grave strategic error both in military and cultural terms-- and we have to put up with people who look at five-year-old Palestinian girls deliberately put into the line of Israeli fire and accidentally killed by ricocheting debris (and mourned by Israelis), and five-year-old Israeli girls shot through the head point-blank by Palestinian terrorists invading a home (and cheered by Palestinians)-- and claim that they're morally equivalent.

These are the same people who see the first tentative steps taken by America towards reining in Islam, and shout "Nazi!" at the top of their lungs. They're the people who tell pollsters that they'd be willing to dodge the draft, because, y'know, that means we'd be fighting for The Man and stuff, y'know? They're the people who think that understanding the answer to "Why do they hate us?" means we can pay someone some money, tweak a few buttons or levers in our global financial influence, and al Qaeda would become satisfied and go away. They're the people who say that "violence is not the answer" and talk of a "cycle of violence", as though if the Palestinians stopped blowing up bus stops and hotels, the IDF would keep bulldozing private homes. They're the people who claim that the Palestinian actions are the result of "desperation", when it's affluent and intelligent college students working on their master's theses who do the bombing these days, as happened in one of the recent attacks-- not the poor and desperate, as one might expect.

Some people just don't want to see the US get involved in another war-- even though it's painfully clear that we're already in one, whether we like it or not. We didn't start this one, no matter what "globalization" arguments are brought to bear-- but we will finish it. And we'll do so regardless of whether someone tries to invoke Godwin's Law on America's ass. It doesn't work that way. Thanks for playing.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
23:39 - Mmmyep. Good Screed.

Lileks is at it again-- and after reading this, I don't know if I've ever felt so distant from the world of college. I'm less than three years out, and I just spent Memorial Day weekend with Mole chums, reminiscing about AMa95 and Ditch Day... but after reading the college-student poll results that he seethes at here, in which the overwhelming majority of the nations Beautiful Young Adults reveal themselves to feel that America is evil and not worth defending against fanatical religious terrorists who, after all, live in cultural purity and don't have McDonald's-- well, I feel like I've suddenly and unexpectedly landed in a whole new tax bracket or something.

I wonder where these poll questions were asked. I somehow have to imagine that, just as with high school, my college experience was somewhat tilted from the norm-- at Caltech, there's no protesting, no hippies (well, there are CS geeks, but while they look similar, they're not), almost no sex, and certainly not much politics. All we cared about was math and physucks. But these polled students seem to be under the impression that just because there's a war on, it automatically means that it's Vietnam all over again-- which means that they, as college students, are required to be against it. Hey, it's tradition, right? And all wars are the same! ...Right?

Hmm. At least there seems to be a healthy majority sympathizing with Israel rather than with the Palestinians. But that's about the only bright spot to be seen.

Read the Screed. You Need a Thneed.

Oh, and by the way-- at the exact same moment that I read "BUT if I’d given in to the temptation to defend the machines, today would be a good example", Homer on TV said "I don't give in to temptation that easily!"

21:06 - What to do, what to do...

Okay, so Eric S. Raymond's blog (pointed to via Cold Fury) is turning out to be pretty linkworthy-- well, as long as he's not talking about Linux-- "A reader complains that Linux is difficult to install. Answer: Get thee to the Linux user group near you, who will be more than happy to help you get liberated". This week he's got a series on Islam and its history that is both sobering and enlightening-- I hadn't realized, for instance, that purdah is not in fact required by the Koran.

But, unfortunately, it doesn't much dispel the suspicions that have been gnawing at me over the past several months, regarding the idea that Islam is a religion that is uniquely, inherently, by its very nature, harmful to the rest of the world-- and what is therefore in store for it in the years to come:

This drama keeps getting re-enacted because, in general, these charismatic fundamentalist looney-toons are correct in their criticism of `soft' Islam. The Koran, the actions and statements of the prophet Mohammed, and the witness of the lives of his immediate followers are pretty clear on what the religious duties of a Muslim are. Long before the 9/11 attacks, I read large portions of the Koran (in translation) and more than one history of Islam, because I collect religions. I learned about the Five Pillars and the hadith (the traditional sayings of Mohammed) and the ulama. The picture is not a pretty or reassuring one.

Moderate Muslims trying to argue against the latest version of Islamic fundamentalism are in a difficult situation. All the fundamentalists have to do to support their position is to point at the Koran, which is much more authoritative in an Islamic context than the Bible is in most Christian ones. Moderates are reduced to arguing that the Koran doesn't really mean what it says, or arguing from hadith that qualify or contradict the Koranic text. Since the Koran trumps the hadith, this is generally a losing position.

The grim truth is that Osama bin Laden's fanatic interpretation of Islam is Koranically correct. The God of the Koran and Mohammed truly does demand that idolatry be purged with fire and sword, and that infidels must be forced either to convert to Islam or (as a limited exception for Christians and Jews, the "Peoples of the Book") live as second-class citizens subject to special taxes and legal restrictions. The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith.

So the inevitable question, the one that people have been dancing around but not really asking for a while now, is this:

Does there come a time when a religion must be declared "evil" and incorrigible, and must be therefore stricken from the planet?

Or, more bluntly:

Should we in fact be considering wiping out Islam?

I hope not. And I wish it weren't true that Islam, unlike pretty much any other religion that's big enough to matter, is so dead-set upon these fantasy-novel concepts of Arthurian warriors and Caliphs and carrying sword and fire into the land of the infidels for the glory of Allah. But as Jamie Glazov and others continue to illustrate, Islam has at its core the codified exhortation to subjugate and convert the infidels, and that cannot be changed without involving changes to Shari'a Law and to the Koran itself-- Bida, a new (and therefore unholy) idea. Modern Islam has demonstrated both the will and the ability to attack the secular, Western world-- Quixotic it might be, but that's all part of the romance. And so there's no hope that they will simply get tired of it and give up. If anything, the more desperate their cause appears, the more fiercely they'll fight, and the more extreme techniques they'll employ, because they have less to lose.

How does one wipe out a religion, anyway? It's like banning an idea-- something that we've been very vehement (with the shoe on the other foot) in claiming to be impossible to eradicate or suppress completely. You can't wipe out democracy by burning the Constitution, and you can't erase Christianity by burning Bibles. The ideas live on regardless of whether they're endorsed by the local government, or whether they're declared subversive. And in any case, we've been vociferous in the blogosphere about the nature of randomly developed ideas as being the ingredients in the rich stew of an open culture-- if we truly feel confident in our thought system, we not only do not declare any idea to be blasphemous, we welcome it into the common discourse to be discussed and accepted or rejected, as appropriate, on the popular level. So thinking about attacking the Muslim religion does rather go against the very grain of our creed, as it were.

But as luck would have it, Islam isn't just a set of ideas: it's a set of ideas with actual physical components, relics that exist in the modern world which are said to play a part in the mythology of the past, present, and future. To wit, the Ka'aba-- the black meteoric stone in the square building in the middle of the square in Mecca. The object of the hajj, the pilgrimage that constitutes one of the Five Pillars of Islam, central to the contemporary practice of the faith as well as its storied founding and its prophesied future. For a bellicose and arrogant religion bent on taking on the entire world, it's founded on a remarkably exposed and vulnerable piece of physical reliquary.

So: What would actually happen if we were to put a cruise missile into the Ka'aba?

Would that finally put paid to the idea that everything in the Koran is an unequivocable script for the future of the world-- if the Ka'aba is destroyed, how can it be moved to Jerusalem in the End Times? How can such a thing happen without being mentioned in the predictions in the text? Would that be enough to dissolve Islam's fanatical core, and the Koranically correct notions that keep attracting Muslims back to strict fundamentalism in a way that no other religion does?

And is there any action we can take short of that, that can result in the modern world remaining safe from attack from that quarter in the future? After all, going to that length would be an act of cultural and historical barbarism worse than the Taliban's destruction of the cliffside Buddhas, which they undertook because... uh, because they were threatened by the influence of a competing religion.

One of our big tenets is "freedom of religion"-- we don't tell you what to believe, as long as you don't tell us what to believe. It's that second bit that's important. Self-determination, and the mind-your-own-business attitude that is fostered in the United States, is not an absolute concept; it is tempered by the clause of "As long as such freedom does not threaten our own survival". There haven't been many-- or indeed any-- immediate and direct threats on our country's ideals in our history, on our own ground, until now. And we're still unwilling to believe the magnitude of the decisions we're going to have to make in defense of what we believe to be right and just.

The point where we must all make that decision is coming, and soon.

Wait, I've got an idea. How about if we send into Mecca a cruise missile that's not armed-- instead of blowing up its target, it simply explodes on contact in a shower of Arabic confetti that reads, "The next one won't be corked"? Because just maybe, the knowledge of such chilling vulnerability is all that it would take...

Response from Mike at Cold Fury. Looks like this idea is becoming more than just a guilt-ridden murmur.

20:27 - Wheee!

The second printing of FreeBSD Unleashed just came through-- I got a copy in the mail today. It includes (at a brief glance) all the changes that I'd flagged, including the improved disk geometry diagram in Chapter 19.

The fact that it's gone to a second printing is very encouraging. If I'd decided to be in a bad mood tonight, I think this would have put a monkey wrench into those plans.

18:52 - “Software sucks because users demand it to.”

Here's a good, revealing article on software design from Charles C. Mann of Technology Review.

It's got some brusque remarks in it from Microsoft's former CTO (from the 80s era) and the usual kind of comparisons to space-travel technology and car design that you would expect in this kind of article. Most refreshingly, it points out the fact that software design is fundamentally different from other kinds of engineering-- "If a bridge survives a 500-kilogram weight and a 50,000-kilogram weight, Pfleeger notes, engineers can assume that it will bear all the values between. With software, she says, 'I can’t make that assumption—I can’t interpolate.'"

It also notes that software is inherently buggy because customers demand new features all the time. As I've mentioned before, devices like digital cameras and MP3 players are in that bleeding-edge phase that personal computers have exemplified in macrocosm for twenty years now: every six months, a company brings out a device that's twice as good as its previous one, just to keep pace with the competition and the demands of the available technology (which keeps changing just as fast). From a stereo-design or car-design or bridge-design standpoint, such thinking is insane.

How much longer can we expect to keep this up? Moore's Law can't keep on going forever, can it? Will there come a time when CPU cycles and RAM are so cheap that no amount of programmatic complexity can drive hardware upgrades? Obviously not for decades at least, or even centuries-- even when we have fully-functional holodecks and transporters, there will still be a demand for still more complex computing tasks. At least, that's the impression of technology that I get from Star Trek-- even over the course of a few fictional decades of a hypothetical future, such new developments as holographic doctors and food replicators are greeted with the same fervor that we emit today over the newest gadgets and peripherals. And because of the egalitarian nature of software creation, the limits on what software can do are still imposed by hardware rather than by human imagination-- as will continue to be the case for a long time, I suspect.

And we can't treat software as an exception to the rules of engineering, either; as time goes on, software will become more and more important a part of the engineering world-- and sooner or later, mechanical and civil and electrical engineering will be treated as the poor cousins of software engineering, the latter of which will be so ubiquitous that its rules will be the ones bent to accommodate the rest of the world's disciplines, not the other way around. Ready to start thinking about quality-control at Ford in terms of defects per kLOCs?

18:19 - From the "Leave it to Japan" department...


In-dash MP3 player. With tube amps.

What more needs to be said?

14:10 - Let's hear it for the good guys

Blogging from India, Shuman Palit has a list of the top twenty reasons to like/love/admire Israel. Go read it, and be sure to also read the responses from Solly Ezekiel and Michael Trossman.

It's good to see that there are more countries on "our side" than just ourselves. What gets me, though, is that there's this unspoken rule that "you don't help the Israelis"-- almost as though the very fact that they've succeeded using the same methods as America did, with a culture of personal expression and individual freedom and innovation, lumps them into a hated category of countries that nobody is willing to emulate because of their success.

Nobody wants to be like the US, because capitalism and democracy and secularity are seen deep down in other parts of the world as dirty and dehumanizing. Nobody wants to be like Israel, because they've got all the bad aspects of the US, plus they're Jews.

If we weren't concerned with what the rest of the world thinks, or whether it would constitute treason or something, I can imagine that a lot of people in this country would happily form a militia to go to Israel and fight on the side of the people that represents a "right" that no accusations of Naziism can assail: this "right" is one where the only possible casualties are the romanticism and idealism of what has been called the "Old World" for centuries now.

If we were to gather together the countries who seem to "get it"-- America, Israel, Britain, India, Japan, perhaps a few others-- and secede and form our own planet, I've got a guess as to which planet would survive longer.

09:20 - Wait a minute. What time is it?

There wasn't much evening bloggage last night because I had what has to be the quickest and most intense fever ever; about eight hours of my life have been sort of snipped out of my consciousness.

I've had a mysterious sore throat for two days, and at about 7:00 last night, after I picked up my car and while Chris and I tried dumbfoundedly to fix a bizarre Sendmail problem, I started feeling really cold. And tired. To steal a line from James Herriot, I felt as though a group of strong men had been kicking me enthusiastically for several hours.

So I got home, I lay down for a while, then moved to the couch downstairs with my comforter, curling up in a desperate attempt to get warm while the TNN Star Trek marathon played. Then dinner was ready-- and as I sat up, suddenly I was unbearably hot. No food could I manage; the best I could do was to go upstairs, fling my window open, and drape myself out into the night air. We didn't seem to have any Tylenol or whatever you're supposed to take in these circumstances; we didn't even have a thermometer, so I have no idea what was going on.

Whenever I've been sick, which is seldom, I tend to always have a single dream which plays for hours and hours, never seeming to make any progress story-wise. Often it's a dream about a bunch of green wire-frame hexagons and squares and pentagons floating about in black space, like a CADKEY project. But not this time; this time I was in charge of removing the foul language from a whole bunch of TV shows. (Apparently these shows were filmed with all the foul language in, which then had to be edited out.) Except the shows weren't on video or anything; they were physical blobs or sticks or something, piled up in a huge sticky mound, and if I cut a piece of bad language from one show, unless I really knew what I was doing, it would appear in a different show. So it was like a game of Jenga or Kalto or something, and I played it all freakin' night.

So now it all seems to be over-- not even my sore throat remains. I'm still a bit dizzy, though... but I don't think I'll stay home. I've never yet missed a day of work due to being sick, and I'm not keen on starting now.

Wish me luck...
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
12:07 - Windows Moment of Zen

I haven't had occasion to mention one of these in a while-- coincidentally since I got the iMac for work and shelved my Windows2000 machine for use in testing Windows apps and playing AVIs with funky encoding that QuickTime doesn't support (not that WMP lets me copy still frames from them or anything).

All I want is to take a screen shot, paste it into Paint, save it into "My Pictures", and then go to the command line to FTP it to my other machine (because the FTP client built into Windows Explorer works not at all).

So I do that. I save it there. The path appears to be Desktop->My Documents->My Pictures. That's where it appears to be. That's where the files are if I double-click on the "My Documents" on my desktop.

But after painstakingly cd'ing through "Documents and Settings" and "briant" and "Desktop" and "My Documents", I find... that it's empty.

There's also a "My Documents" directly under the "BrianT" level, but-- yes, it's also empty.

Hmm, maybe it's in "All Users.WINDOWS" or "Default User.WINDOWS". Nope, not there either. "Administrator"? Nope.

It's only after much scrolling and prodding that we discover that the files, as well as a Word document that seems to be accessible by Word and nothing else, are in a "My Documents" folder directly under the C:\ root. Same with "My Music" and "My Download Files".

What the hell is this? Does every user share these top-level folders? Or does Windows actively copy all the files around the system, out of your user-specific folder and into this top-level thing every time you log in? Is this their helpful way of making the files accessible to you-- shuffling them into a completely backwards and counterintuitive location so you don't have to go down two extra levels in Windows Explorer to find them? Oh, thank you for your generous assistance.

This is Microsoft's idea of a multi-user operating system, is it? Good Lord.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
14:39 - Shee-frickin-hosaphat!


Is this the front-runner? It certainly seems to be well-developed, and if the poll is to be believed it has an over 80% approval rate. It seems to cover all the bases-- the 2833 trees, the bigger-than-before, the whole-world-exchange aspect... I have to give it some more thought, but I might be able to get behind this...
Monday, June 17, 2002
20:59 - This slope ain't that slippery

Marcus forwards me the folowing e-mail, which reinforces the fact that there's a long way to go between security profiling and Naziism:

To ensure we Americans never offend anyone, particularly fanatics intent on killing us, airport screeners will not be allowed to profile people.

They will continue random searches of 80 year old women, little kids, airline pilots with proper identification, Secret Service agents who are members of the President's security detail, 85 year old Congressmen with metal hips, and Medal Of Honor winners.

Let's pause a moment and take the following test:
In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnaped and massacred by:
(a) Olga Korbut
(b) Sitting Bull
(c) Arnold Schwartzenegger
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:
(a) Lost Norwegians
(b) Elvis
(c) A tour bus full of 80 year old women
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

During the 1980's, a number of Americans were kidnaped in Lebanon by:
(a) John Dillinger
(b) The King of Sweden
(c) The Boy Scouts
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:
(a) A pizza delivery boy
(b) Pee Wee Herman
(c) Geraldo Rivera
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked, and a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard by:
(a) The Smurfs
(b) Davy Jones
(c) The Little Mermaid
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens, and a US Navy diver was murdered by:
(a) Captain Kidd
(b) Charles Lindbergh
(c) Mother Teresa
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by:
(a) Scooby Doo
(b) The Tooth Fairy
(c) Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by:
(a) Richard Simmons
(b) Grandma Moses
(c) Michael Jordan
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by:
(a) Mr. Rogers
(b) Hillary Clinton
(c) The World Wrestling Federation
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

On 9/11/01, four airliners were hijacked and destroyed, and thousands of people were killed by:
(a) Wiley E. Coyote
(b) The Supreme Court of Florida
(c) Mr. Bean
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 2002, the United States fought a war in Afghanistan against:
(a) Enron
(b) The Lutheran Church
(c) The NFL
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 2002, reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnaped and murdered by:
(a) Bonnie and Clyde
(b) Captain Kangaroo
(c) Billy Graham
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

Nope, no pattern here!!

19:35 - Where do you think you're going today?

If you've got a name like "Woodcock", I hope you don't harbor aspirations of signing up with Microsoft's Passport service. You disgusting pervert.

That is, until the fateful day recently when trying to sign up for Passport. When I try I get a little message that says "Your lastname contains a word that has been reserved or is prohibited for .NET Passport registration. Please type in a different lastname". If only the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages had said something similar 25 years ago...

Being temporarily unemployed, I spent a rather entertaining afternoon entering slight-moderate rude words into the sign on process. Alas, only my name and similar names were rejected. Harold Wanker, Fred Prostitute and Josiah Feltch (and Felch, I never know how to spell it, neither does /usr/dict/words) all seem to be perfectly acceptable names. So it would appear to be a mistake... (And you should hear what "Gates" means in our house).

One day later, I finally found an email address to write to to point out this oversight. Surely there is a quick fix. But no. I got an email from some polite lady pointing out what a disgusting and offensive little man my forebear was and does this satisfy my query?

I love how their marketing slogan these days is "Yes You Can".

16:24 - Jasper: Most Famous Dog in the Blogosphere

Leave it to Lileks to corral together the wildly disparate topics of home life, Islamofascism, the Macintosh, Star Trek, and agnosticism under one three-letter heading: Dog.

But who civilizes the dog? Man. And it’s so very easy to do; it requires only connection and the will to do good. Which is why I’ve often said, half facetiously, that the relationship between man and dog is the same as man to God. Dogs don’t understand our books or physics or spacecraft or lawn mower engines or flat-screen monitors or 99.8% of our world. They do not know what it is that they do not know. They don’t even know how to pose the question, frame the argument, find their way into to realm of the human mind. The connection to the human being is sufficient. And that’s why I’m not an atheist, as much as every single rational fiber of my being tells me I should be: don’t know what I don’t know. (And I know that for a fact.) I find no more empirical proof of God than my dog finds proof of satellite TV. But at night when we’re on the sofa he sees the inscrutable stories flickering on the box in the corner. I note his disinterest: one of those things, whaddagonna do. But the fact that he doesn’t get the story doesn’t mean there’s not a story being told.

It's so hard to quote the guy, because I hate having to choose one paragraph and implicitly circular-file the rest. So go read the whole thing and put my mind at ease. Thank you... I feel much better.

(Oh, and I do believe that was my Dogcow post he was referring to. Hot diggety damn!)

13:57 - Fighting the Sandalistas

This article at War Now! could well be considered the manifesto for the new worldwide face-off that's coming-- deserving like nothing else has been of the title World War III.

The Kiwi author draws the battle lines as being between "civilization" and "barbarism"-- the former of which is exemplified by the capitalist and democratic middle class of the Western states, and the latter of which is an unlikely coalition between the "Jackboots"-- classic political idealists who have given us Hitler and Stalin-- and the "Sandals", or in other words the hippie-activist-Islamofascist axis. The members of this last group are described in many an example.

The article is good reading, and I recommend it-- except that there's one point where in his delineation of the Sandalistas faction, he lumps in-- as though out of hand-- the euthanasia supporters and abortion activists, tarring them along with destructionist barbarians as being "anti-human". I'm afraid I have to disagree there, as do some of the people in the article's Comments. I would say that being in favor of euthanasia and the right-to-die, as well as of abortion rights, is an affirmation of life. The issue involved is as follows: Begin with two lives, one happy, one miserable. Make your choice. Would you rather see a) two lives, both somewhat miserable, or b) one life, happy?

I hold that happiness is a force multiplier for life. And so one happy life is much preferable to two dismal ones.

This is a stance, I feel, that affirms the sanctity of life, but in a scientifically rational way. I'm of the mind that the purpose of being here on Earth is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering for the maximum number of people, and that goal cannot be achieved simply by setting as your carrot "saving all lives at all costs". It involves being a lot more judicious; and if an elderly relative is suffering in a coma, or if a baby would be born into a home that's lacking in attention or love, then it's criminal to sacrifice overall quality of life-- and cause additional suffering-- simply because of an unwillingness to end a life purely because it's human. That, I feel, is one of the most civilized levels a society can reach.

Other than that, though, thumbs-up.
Sunday, June 16, 2002
19:40 - The White Man's Burden

The National Geographic Channel today had a series of "Into the Fire" shows, with a group of American thrill-seekers and photo-journalists traversing the Sahara on fan-driven parasails with 4x4 support vehicles. Looked awfully fun.

Except that when they were in Chad, they had to spend a lot of time dodging rebel groups and anti-American sentiment. (Wasn't Chad one of the nations we'd listed as being known terrorist-harborers?) One of the team members' son was kidnapped (and later released) while they were there.

At one point, they came across a giant Mercedes truck with what had to be at least thirty men on its back, their bags of goods hung out over each side, perched precariously atop the mound like a Dr. Seuss drawing. It's a very National Geographic kind of visual-- gosh, look at the local laborers and how poor they are, and yet how carefree and simple their lives! Oh, for the purity of such a life. Do be a dear and turn up the A/C, would you?

At least, that's the impression the show seems to want to give; after the trekkers have conversed with the men on the truck in French (and convinced them with some difficulty that they were private citizens and not in fact agents of the American government (Oh, oui! Tres bien!), the adventurer told the camera what he had heard from the man he'd been talking to.
"He asked, 'Why are you so rich and we are so poor? Why are you driving this luxury 4x4 vehicle, while we're all piled up in the back of this truck? Why doesn't America give something to us, so that we can have it a little easier?' ... Kind of a hard question to answer."

Yeah, maybe it's hard to answer when you're sitting there in the Chad desert among thirty of these guys who already distrust you. But sitting here at home, I have two answers to offer:
  1. We've tried that. We've been sending food aid into countries like Somalia and Chad and Ethiopia and the like for decades now, and we've observed that the only thing that ever happens to it is that it gets intercepted by warlords and turned into guns to kill other warlords. (Then why don't they send in the US military to stop the warlords? What, you mean like in Mogadishu?)
  2. Why are you so poor? Because you live in a bloody desert. Chad has no useful arable land. Where do you expect wealth to come from? Buried treasure in the oases? An efficient manufacturing and ore-processing industry? The cultural purity of smiling local laborers? Look, some countries just happen to have more means to create wealth than others. America is rich because we took off from the most technologically and industrially advanced nation in Europe and annexed ourselves a gigantic landmass comprising every biome on Earth, full of enough natural resources to secede and become our own planet. Then we proceeded to advance the state of the art in agriculture, mining, civil engineering, and every other field to such an extent that if America hadn't existed, the planet would still probably be in the latter phase of the Industrial Age. That's why we're so rich.

To what extent are we obliged to divest ourselves of the wealth we have ourselves earned and inherited in order to even out perceived imbalances between ourselves and countries that haven't been so lucky or so diligent? Why is it our responsibility to make up for Chad's standard of living just because they can't make any food of their own? I mean, yes, I understand the whole thing about charity and all, and I'm all for it. If we're that much more comfortable, and would feel that much less of a pinch from giving some up, then by all means we should if it means raising the standard of living for people whose lives consist of traveling hundreds of miles a week on a towering truck and dodging armed rebel factions and warlords in order to obtain some semblance of subsistence in the middle of a famine. Not doing so makes us decadent and monstrous, and would mean we deserve the looks of disgust we get in the countries that would prefer to see us all dead.

But when there's such genuine inability to comprehend why Americans should have it so good-- why they should have air-conditioned SUVs and the wealth it takes to jaunt about the Sahara in a parasail just for the fun of it-- well, there's a certain point at which it becomes pointless to try to explain it. This isn't a world where righteousness and purity wins, much as the fundamentalist Muslims would like to believe that it is. Living a life of ascetic inconsequence and submission to the teachings of some ancient book don't make one rich or one's country supreme. This is a world where personal achievement and natural advantages will rule. It's called competition. It leads to capitalism and democracy. That's why we have SUVs, and why people living in the desert think we're evil.

We're not interested in empire. That age is long over, and we'd taken ourselves out of that game long before the European nations started to do so. We have our recipe for achievement, we've set up the tools we need to vault forward into the future, and we've tried to bring the rest of the world along for the ride-- but some of the world would rather stay behind. That's fine; far be it from us to dictate their domestic issues. But they don't get to blame us for it or knock down our skyscrapers just because they're pissed off that they're not the ones making Levi's and McDonald's burgers.

I dunno. I'm just sick of being made to feel guilty that our country has succeeded. Thanks a lot, National Geographic.

After all, can you imagine how poorly it would reflect upon the American people if, having started out with all the advantages we had, and with all the potential afforded us by our social and political system, we didn't become the dominant player in the world?
Saturday, June 15, 2002
11:15 - Humboldt? They should have known better...

You know that Subaru ad, that sweet little story about the girl and her mom driving out into the woods in their Forester to release their bunny into the wild?

Well, Subaru has had to pull the ad, because of the complaints of rabbit fanciers.

The Chronicle reported the rabbit brouhaha on Wednesday. On Thursday Mark Darling, vice president for marketing at Subaru in Cherry Hill, N.J., said he had made the decision to pull the ad.

"Unfortunately, the message yielded an unintended conclusion, that being a domestic rabbit was released into the wild," said Darling. He said the critics were a "relatively small but passionate group, and, quite frankly, we have other things to attend to and do not need the distraction."

In other words, "Jesus Christ, you people! Get a frickin' grip!"

I've been very unsympathetic toward people who want certain things taken off of TV ever since Beavis was forced to stop saying "Fire". You don't like something, grit your goddamned teeth. You don't see me lobbying to get The 700 Club taken off the air, do you?
Friday, June 14, 2002
15:05 - Hey, lady, it's not 1997 anymore

Did everybody see this? The principal of an elementary school in Santa Monica has banned "Tag". Yes, that Tag. The schoolyard game with "It". Because being "It" damages kids' self-esteem.

"This is all based on safety," said Samarge, also in her third year as school principal. "It has nothing to do with anything else except to reduce injuries for the kids."

But there was that statement in the school newsletter that seemed to trigger the debate. In the third paragraph of an article titled "Safety on the Playground," the piece reads: "The running part of this activity is healthy and encouraged; however, in this game, there is a 'victim' or 'It,' which creates a self-esteem issue. The oldest or biggest child usually dominates."

I'd love to see the playground equipment in Santa Monica parks. Big spongy plastic spheres, probably, sitting in a foot-deep bed of foam-rubber shavings. "Okay, class, take out your safety pencil and a circle of paper..."

Some people won't be satisfied until we live in a Nerf world, where kids can be allowed to roam free through the back alleys and schoolyards without the parents having to do anything themselves to take an active role in their development. If what they're concerned with is preventing more Columbines, you punish the bullies for specific acts-- don't blame the victims and refuse to lift a finger against the perpetrators because they're on the god-damned football team. And by banning "Tag", you're making kids think about ostracizing individuals years before they'd normally have started doing that anyway.

Give kids a chance to grow up among their peers, at their own speed. If you're trying to send them the message that when they grow up, the world will shield them from people saying offensive words and being ruthless in society and business-- you're condemning them to failure, and ensuring that the backlash from them will be one of intense racism, sexism, and nationalism from people who grew up frustrated that they were never allowed to work these feelings out. But if you send the message that they can succeed if they try, and people who cheat and bully you get thrown in the jug if you stand up to them-- that's healthy.

At least this article makes it sound like the parents at this school think the principal needs a new line of work-- like, say, lunch-lady. Good.

13:42 - What Makes a Zealot?

The other day, the Gartner Group published the results of a study that concluded that from a Total Cost of Ownership standpoint, Macs are significantly cheaper to buy, own, operate, maintain, repair, and upgrade than PCs are. "Up to 36 percent more cost-effective", reads the report, which (like most Gartner studies) costs $95 for a copy (hence no direct link).

Someone posted regarding this story on Slashdot (follow the link), and it may as well have had an icon next to it of a bucket with CHUM printed on it. Slashdot, after all, is the nexus of ultra-budget-conscious Intel-hardware geek opinion; there's no way you can get away with claiming that Macs are cheaper than PCs without all the Linux geeks in the world whipping themselves up into a fervor with hardware price listings intended to prove that they can make a top-end computer, comparable to a $3000 one from Apple, with under $400. That's what they're all about, after all-- right? The whole point of Linux is effectively "free computing", and the lack of any requirement to have to spend any money on software.

There are a whole lot of people in the comments defending Apple, though, and providing real-world examples (from the business and home and education markets) that support the Gartner numbers. These arguments are all very much what we've seen before, nothing new here. But halfway down, you start seeing a different kind of argument being made. To paraphrase:

"I would buy a Mac tomorrow, I really would-- except for one deal-killing thing: the Mac Zealots."

Here we come to what is probably at the crux of the whole Mac-vs-PC debate: the smaller Apple's market share gets, the louder the Zealots get. And the Zealots are counterproductive. They drive away more potential business from Apple than they attract, though their only goal in life appears to be winning Mac converts. How can this be?

It's pretty simple, really. It's nothing new, and it's very human-nature. See, it's never really been about quality, or ease-of-use, or software availability, or DVD burning. It's been about Macs being different. The more the world standardizes on Windows, the more the Mac becomes seen as an outlying "freak" ghetto-- and no matter how many facts and studies the people in that ghetto can quote, and no matter how compelling their demonstrations and their visibly happier lifestyle is, Wintel users are made all the less likely to switch-- purely because of what the Mac world looks like:

A cult.

Let's think about this for a minute. Yes, all the jokes have already been made, about Steve Jobs being the David Koresh of the computer industry, about the legions of followers who dress like him and eat like him and worship the ground on which he walks. Yeah, yeah. But it goes beyond jokes, and I'd like to explore that a little bit. How are Mac Zealots similar to Religious Zealots? Really?
  • We believe we have a "better way", and we want to advertise that fact
  • We see unhappiness in the world around us (people who hate Windows), and we want them to be happier and live up to their full computing potential
  • We want to reward the Company itself for its products, by winning more customers

We even use religious vocabulary: "winning converts", "proselytizing", "evangelism". We look at this in very much the way as an evangelical religious group does: we honestly believe that our way is better, and that other people would thank us in the long term if we could get them to See the Light.

What does this sound like? Mormons, if you ask me. And no matter how happy Mormons look, how compelling they can make their case, how much proof they can show that their way is better-- most of us resent the hell out of it.

It's the same way with the Mac. PC users know, deep down, that the Mac is probably better. (Why else would so many people be so adamant about plumping for it?) But the more their friends pressure them, the more they flaunt the virtues of their platform, the more the PC users are likely to simply dismiss it out of hand. It complicates things. They have a solution; they know it's not ideal, but what is, in this workaday world? Most PC users, even those who grudgingly acknowledge under pressure that the Mac offers an awfully attractive package, simply wish Apple would just hurry up and go out of business, so they can get on with their humdrum lives. At least it won't seem so humdrum if there aren't these freaks rubbing their noses in it all the time.

Again, it's all because Macs are "different". They're simply not what people are used to. Even the most tolerant and open-minded among us will have an aversion reaction to something that's different; it's nothing to be ashamed of, it's in our biology. It's how human societies evolved: we're wired to do pattern-matching on ourselves and our neighbors, and to formulate alliances based on commonalities between us and them. Similarly, we treat those who are different from us with initial distrust, because biologically they're less likely to be family, and more likely to kill you for your food. It's a genetic-survival thing-- we protect our own bloodline and try to drive away others. The Infinite Mind had a great article on that a while ago, read on NPR. We're wired to be racist. It's only in the last couple of hundred years that we've decided to actively override that hard-wiring through social consciousness; now that it's no longer evolutionarily beneficial to stick within our own kind, we may be able to move on and allow miscegenation to take place. ("May", I say, because on an evolutionary time-scale we're in a freakish spike of circumstances that may well pass in the blink of an eye-- a couple of thousand years, that is-- and return us all to a hunter-gatherer state where racism is again evolutionarily important.)

So it is with Apple. Let's look at how Macs have been regarded throughout history:
  • 1984: When the Mac is first introduced, PC users dismiss it as a "toy" because of its icon-and-menu-driven interface, its upper-and-lower-case letters, and the fact that it can speak. Everybody knows, after all, that a "real computer" is command-line and can only produce beeps.
  • 1990: As Windows 3.1 gains popularity, people ridicule the Mac because it's slow and monochrome. Apple jumps straight to 24-bit color while the PC market is using EGA graphics, but it takes them years to notice.
  • 1995: Windows 95 is released, making the PC slow. Now people ridicule the Mac because of its one-button mouse, and claim that Macs can't be networked or read PC disks (both untrue). They also rail against how expensive Macs are (which is true). Why buy a Mac? Apple is going out of business.
  • 1998: The affordable iMac is released, to widespread derision in the PC world. Everybody knows a "real computer" is a beige box, after all. Yet the entire consumer electronics industry is colorful and translucent within a year, every single computer shown in movies or on ergonomics posters is an iMac, and eMachines makes direct rip-offs of it. Now PC users ridicule the Mac because it doesn't have a floppy drive, even though the only thing they use one for is to reinstall Windows. Meanwhile, the iMac popularizes USB for the first time.
  • 1999: The iBook is scorned as looking like a purse or a toilet seat, even though its design (and handle) makes it extremely durable and extremely portable. It also has AirPort, though nobody notices until Dell puts it in their laptops a year later and claims that they were the first to do so. PC users continue to ridicule Macs for not being networkable. (Meanwhile, OS 8-9 can mount drives remotely across the Internet.) The "Megahertz Myth" gains traction, and becomes another easy target for derision.
  • 2000: The "Digital Hub" apps appear. iTunes has to be seen to be believed, and iMovie becomes the gold standard for home DV editing. PC users scoff at DV editing: Who would ever want to do THAT? iDVD brings DVD burning to the desktop for the first time ever. Who would ever want to do THAT? Now people ridicule the Mac for its old and unstable and drab-looking OS, now that Microsoft is making noises about moving the desktop OS market onto the NT/2000 line.
  • 2001: OS X is released, addressing every complaint anybody has ever had about the Mac OS. But PC users ridicule it for being too colorful and slow. Subsequent releases make it much faster (when has that ever happened in the PC world?), and suddenly the whole UNIX user base is interested. But PC users still find things to complain about. Not enough games. Cutesy-looking hardware. That damn one-button mouse. Still too expensive. Apple is still going out of business (neat trick when they're making a profit). They're in a hardware dead-end with the PPC lineup, so don't buy a Mac-- in two years they'll be standing at the end of an alley, looking around uncertainly for the next PPC chip, which doesn't exist, and they'll be caught completely by surprise! Intel is the only way to go. They obviously have no plan for the future. They should port OS X and the iApps to Intel and make beige boxes! Macs suck! Everybody knows that. They can't be networked! They're monochrome! Windows XP rules, even though we hate it!

No company on Earth has ever been more diligent at addressing the market's complaints and requirements than Apple has. How frequently has Microsoft brought out some new innovative feature that genuinely enhances people's lives and creativity, or taken some decisive action to address a serious and long-standing concern on the part of their consumers? Why isn't that a determining factor in which company a buyer patronizes?

If we were all Vulcans, the above historical breakdown would be ludicrous. Logically speaking, the complaints that people have about Macs are spurious and keep being addressed in a way that never happens on the Wintel side. Unless your sole buying criteria are initial purchasing cost or software availability, it would be a no-brainer to go with a Mac.

But we're not Vulcans, and our subconscious tells us to use Windows. Yes, it sucks-- we all know that. But 95% of the market can't be wrong, can it? It's certainly easier to just go with the flow. Besides, what's the point of complaining about Windows' shortcomings? They won't get fixed-- or maybe they will. Who cares? It's much simpler to just learn to live with them than to fling ourselves into an orgy of oohing and aahing over a platform that takes such pains with its hardware and OS and applications as to make them works of art that are a joy to use. Who has time for that? I mean, look at these Mac people-- they love their Macs so much that their Macs become a way of life. You don't see us Windows users spending so much of our valuable time writing gigantic blog articles about how great Windows is, do you? We know it sucks, and we get on with our lives. You Mac Zealots are doing nothing but proving that having a better platform just makes you less productive.

....Hmm. And I suppose there's a point to be taken there. And that's really what I'm getting at: Mac Zealotry is a weird phenomenon. The true outspoken zealots may make up less than a percent of the computing world at large-- they're actually a small minority even within the Mac community-- but they're visible as all hell. (Notably, Linux Zealots make up a much larger segment of the Linux community-- because Linux is inherently designed to be a rebel's OS.) And when a PC user hears "Macs", he hears the shrieks of people like-- well, me, heh-- telling him that he's an unethical and brainwashed moron who's artificially limiting himself by using an inferior computing platform. And that makes him think, "Well, I don't care how good the Mac is. I ain't sharing a platform with him."

Am I saying that Mac evangelism is to blame for Apple's small market share and ever-unclear future? Only partially. Zealots have two effects. On one hand, yes, they tend to unnerve the very people they try to convince and convert, just like the Mormons on the doorstep with their gleaming smiles and their Dapper Dan hair and their smart pressed shirts and ties. (That's unnatural! Begone!) But on the other hand, it's because of the zealots that Apple still exists. That less-than-one-percent is responsible in no small part for buoying Apple's sales through the bleak times, for defending against the ridicule and slander and dismissal from the tech press and the general PC-using public, and (importantly) for creating what's become a very large network of websites committing to electronic permanence some of the foundational precepts that underlie our ideals as Mac users. The Mac community wouldn't be anywhere near as vibrant-- and, I daresay, neither would Apple-- without sites like MacSurfer, As the Apple Turns, MacInTouch, Think Secret, and MacKiDo. Zealotry doesn't entirely backfire-- it does do what it sets out to do, to a certain degree.

Just about everybody who works in technology probably has at least one friend or acquaintance who's a Mac user and is unceasingly "at him" to switch-- or at least to be suitably impressed by the things that the Mac can do. The Mac user might use "shame" tactics, demonstrating how the Mac is the platform that anyone who craves elegance in software design should be using. (Yeah, I know-- sorry.) The PC user is expected to ooh and aah, and being in that position makes people feel manipulated. So for most people, even though they might be impressed by the Mac, and even though they might honestly want to humor their Mac friend (hey, after all, he's a friend), the attitude of evangelism goes into the "con" column rather than the "pro". That's what we have to watch out for. Johnny, one of my co-workers, mentioned the other day how he has a friend who's been "working on him" for years, and is making slow but steady progress-- the friend thinks he's won a major victory by Johnny's recently buying an iPod. (Johnny doesn't think so-- he just really really likes the iPod. But he has slated a TiBook purchase for the near future.) The key to that is slow, steady, and non-confrontational advocacy, not zealotry. Nobody likes to feel preached to. Nobody likes to feel that their decision, their expertise, their entire technological experience is "wrong".

So why do I write all this Mac stuff here? Hey, I don't know-- I just find it interesting to do. I'm still astonished to find that a double-digit number of people are reading this site; I never expected more than myself and a few close friends to ever stumble across it. The purpose of this blog is for me to write down what's in my head so I can save it for later and find out what I was thinking on such-and-such a day. More often than not, I was surprised to discover-- because I never set out to focus on such a thing-- that what's on my mind is Mac stuff. I'm interested in finding out why I think the things I do on the subject, and this helps me organize my opinions. And if it succeeds in pleasing Mac-using readers or in convincing PC users that the Mac is worth a second look, so much the better.

I'm uninterested in being known as a Zealot. Even if I get labeled as one purely because Mac stuff makes up the majority of the content here, I'll fight that epithet. I try to cover as much negative Mac stuff as I do positive, and I try to explore the myriad sides of each given situation. As friends like Paul know, I'm often more of a devil's-advocate in one-on-one discussions than I am here-- I'm the one who has to be reassured by them that Apple isn't making some huge mistake by some move or other. I do have some goals-- I want to defend against slanderous attacks against Apple, like those that are frequently leveled in high-profile web forums, and I enjoy discussing Apple's prospects with people willing to engage in serious debate. I enjoy helping to spread the word about new products and good news. And I also enjoy trying to distill my feelings on Macs into opinion pieces that explain just what it is about their hardware and software that makes people like me willing to lay down our lives in order to see it survive.

Apple needs its zealots-- they've been around long enough that their existence must be factored into Apple's very business plan. But their influence is both a blessing and a curse, and Apple is succeeding today in winning back some market share in spite of them as much as because of them.

I hope this recent "Real People" ad campaign does something to alleviate that pressure. The people in it aren't Zealots for two reasons: 1) They're carefully chosen to be non-threatening and in positions of vulnerability, and they're on TV-- they're not friends that you don't want to risk offending, so what they're saying isn't directly aimed at you; and 2) it's actual advertising by the Company itself. People are leery of advertising that's not done by the actual company. They wonder, what's the company doing wrong if they have to have flunkies and spies infiltrating my circle of friends? Is there some kind of initiation ceremony? Where's the hidden camera? At least if it's coming out of the TV, it's in a familiar tableau, and passive. That may be the biggest stroke of insight in that ad campaign: it's a non-threatening counterpoint to the Zealotry in the real world, something that would-be switchers have a hard time getting past. Without the ads, the act of switching to the Mac seems like an act of joining a cult or buying a copy of Who's Who. With the ads, the act makes the transition to one of buying a product. And if there's anything Americans are comfortable with, it's buying a product.

The pieces are finally in place; Apple is at last in a position where it can begin to appeal to the PC market at large on its own terms, rather than as a kooky alternative underground rebellion. As the ranks swell, the Zealots will become less and less visible, less and less confrontational-- and less and less of an impediment to more people switching than ever before.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
22:17 - So this is what Xbox advertising is reduced to...


When all else fails, remember "Sex Sells". And if you're marketing to the adolescent g4m3r d3wd demographic, so much the better.

BY XB0X & WE GIVE U B00B!!!111`!1``

11:17 - What We're Up Against

Via Cold Fury, which has a slew of good stuff up ever since his DNS and hosting issues have been sorted out: a MEMRI excerpting of an article by Suleiman Abu Gheith, one of the al Qaeda mucky-mucks, explaining why we need to kill him and everybody who looks like him.

"We have not reached parity with them. We have the right to kill 4 million Americans - 2 million of them children - and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons, so as to afflict them with the fatal maladies that have afflicted the Muslims because of the [Americans'] chemical and biological weapons."

"Christianity is as bad as Islam because it kills people and rapes children," people whine. Yeah, well, I'm no big fan of that. But read this article, I dare you, and tell me we don't have bigger fish to fry. And fry them we must.

09:53 - Geoffrey Nunberg


Every time Geoff Nunberg's name comes up on "Fresh Air" on NPR, I turn the radio way up-- because I've come to look forward to his columns the way I look forward to new Apple product releases. Nunberg is a Stanford linguist who has worked at Xerox PARC, and as is frequently plugged, has a book of his collected columns called The Way We Talk Now.

A little while ago, he had a piece on journalistic that focused on the word roil; I found it to be so much fun I nearly had to pull over into the breakdown lane, the better to try to absorb it all. (How fortunate that it happens to be online!) And just the other day there was another piece by him, this time on the concepts of "moral equivalence", "moral relativism", "moral majority", and all other things "moral". It isn't online yet, more's the pity, but I'll be certain to link it here when it is-- because I'll likely be referencing it in anything I write in the future on those topics or anything I might be able to relate to them. This guy rules.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
01:28 - Regarding Euthanasia


    "The Doom of the World," they said, "One alone can change who made it. And were you so to voyage that escaping all deceits and snares you came indeed to Aman, the Blessed Realm, little would it profit you. For it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land; and there you would but wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast."
    But the King said: "And does not Eärendil, my forefather, live? Or is he not in the land of Aman?"
    To which they answered: "You know that he has a fate apart, and was adjudged to the Firstborn who die not; yet this also is his doom that he can never return to mortal lands. Whereas you and your people are not of the Firstborn, but are mortal Men as Ilúvatar made you. Yet it seems that you desire now to have the good of both kindreds, to sail to Valinor when you will, and to return when you please to your homes. That cannot be. Nor can the Valar take away the gifts of Ilúvatar. The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die. Yet that is to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfilment of their being. They cannot escape, and are bound to this world, never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs. And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die. But that was not at first appointed for a punishment. Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness. Which of us therefore should envy the others?"
    And the Númenóreans answered: "Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the Earth and would not lose it."
    Then the Messengers said: "Indeed the mind of Ilúvatar concerning you is not known to the Valar, and he has not revealed all things that are to come. But this we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the Land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World. And the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them. We who bear the ever-mounting burden of the years do not clearly understand this; but if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows again in your hearts. Therefore, though you be the Dúnedain, fairest of Men, who escaped from the Shadow of old and fought valiantly against it, we say to you: Beware! The will of Eru may not be gainsaid; and the Valar bid you earnestly not to withhold the trust to which you are called, lest soon it become again a bond by which you are constrained. Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose. Nonetheless, many ages of Men unborn may pass ere that purpose is made known; and to you it will be revealed and not to the Valar."


    But Atanamir was ill pleased with the counsel of the Messengers and gave little heed to it, and the greater part of his people followed him; for they wished still to escape death in their own day, not waiting upon hope. And Atanamir lived to a great age, clinging to his life beyond the end of all joy; and he was the first of the Númenóreans to do this, refusing to depart until he was witless and unmanned, and denying to his son the kingship at the height of his days. For the Lords of Númenor had been wont to wed late in their long lives and to depart and leave the mastery to their sons when these were come to full stature of body and mind.


    But for all this Death did not depart from the land, rather it came sooner and more often, and in many dreadful guises. For whereas aforetime men had grown slowly old, and had laid them down in the end to sleep, when they were weary at last of the world, now madness and sickness assailed them; and yet they were afraid to die and go out into the dark, the realm of the lord that they had taken, and they cursed themselves in their agony.

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, Akallabêth

This was my Bible in high school, and I still think it has some valuable metaphorical guidance on this issue. (No, I'm not a literalist when it comes to following the Silmarillion. But I'm not above recognizing when it has a point that happens to be applicable.)

21:26 - I can't believe what I'm seeing.

Somebody pinch me. It looks as though Sony's and Universal's record divisions have woken up suddenly having grown a brain, and they're doing what we had all considered to be the impossible dream: they're releasing music as digital singles, for less than $1, and whole digital albums for $10. And what's more, this music can be burned onto CDs.

The songs will be distributed first by Liquid Audio of Redwood City, Calif., whose audio format provides better sound quality than MP3 files. Liquid Audio delivers music to dozens of online retailers, including CDNow, Amazon.com, Best Buy and Sam Goody.

Liquid Audio files are scrambled so they can't be freely copied from computer to computer. But Universal has decided to let buyers burn the files onto conventional CDs in unscrambled formats, meaning they could be copied or moved freely from that point.

The major labels have resisted the idea of letting consumers burn downloadable songs because they believe it would encourage piracy. But Kenswil noted that songs are widely being pirated, so "you're not keeping anything from being open [to piracy] by copy-protecting the download."

This could get really interesting.

17:53 - Yeah, what he said.

Interesting how lately I keep seeing variations on this same sentiment, over and over, in blog after blog after blog (including mine):

As recently as a couple of years ago, I thought that both sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict had to share the blame equally for the ongoing trouble there. I felt sorry for the Palestinians, who had been "forced from their homes" - surely they deserved a country of their own as much as the Jews did? Surely they deserved to live in dignity, with the respect of their neighbors? Why were the Israelis so adamant, so doggone unreasonable, in their refusal to return to the 1967 borders? Well, allow me to state this here and now: I was an ill-informed idiot, guilty of forming an opinion without relying on actual facts. I do that now and then, unfortunately.

But no more. The Israelis are burdened with no more of a moral obligation to return the West Bank and Gaza to their tormentors than the US is to return Texas and California to Mexico. Less, really, because the Mexican government hasn't sworn to destroy us, and most important: the Mexican people don't support such an idea. Nor do I remember anybody dancing in the streets of Tijuana when the WTC came down.

As far as I'm concerned, the Palestinians can rot.

And yes, this is in response to something-- namely some damning poll results that indicate that whatever contagion has taken over the brains of the Palestinian populace, it's not something that we can combat with any human medicine that isn't copper-jacketed.

How much further does this have to go before we confront the fact that we're dealing with people who-- to paraphrase a Lileks column from several months ago-- can be fluent in English and conversant with the mechanicals of a 767, and yet unable to accept that its pilot could conceivably have plunked the plane into the ocean as an act of suicide, because he was a Muslim and Muslims don't do that?

We're not engaged in a political negotiation here. This is a first-contact situation with an alien invasion force, and we're going to have to start treating it as such.

Time to start hiring Babylon 5 writers into the Cabinet.

17:20 - Brilliant.

This post by Tim Blair, a parody of all those "I am a political refugee from Africa and would like to send you $15 million, just give me your bank account number" e-mails that no doubt everyone has received a couple of hundred times over by now, is genius.

17:16 - Premium Arabic Family Programming and Entertainment Worldwide™

Here's something else that I'm not willing to even say much about-- just to urge you to go and read it.

Any Muslims in the audience feel like standing up in outrage over this kind of thing happening under the aegis of their faith? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

09:57 - Dear Lord, defend me from your followers...

I'm not even going to say much of anything about this; just go and read it.

On Tuesday current convention President James Merritt of Snellville backed Vines, saying "historically, he is on solid ground." Mohammed married a girl of 6 and consummated the marriage at 9, Merritt said. "In my book, that's a pedophile."

Christians and Muslims have "fundamental differences," Merritt said. "The God they worship is a God of works and a God of fear. The God we worship is a God of hope and grace and love and mercy."

The Southern Baptists' president-elect, the Rev. Jack Graham, also supported Vines' position, warning believers to "look carefully at who they're following and what they believe."

An angry Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the Baptist leaders' remarks "completely irresponsible and deeply offensive."

"This hands a victory to terrorists who want to drive a wedge between Christians, Muslims and Jews," he said. "This could harm America's interests worldwide."

Looks to me as though we're headed for a war between Christianity and Islam after all, no matter how much the rest of us have tried to avoid it.

In the 60s, everyone assumed the next big war would be thermonuclear. In the 90s, people said it would be a war of information-- defending economic and financial data against Chinese and Korean hackers. But now it's looking more and more like the next big war will be bloody, dirty, and holy-- and it may as well be fought with swords and shields and picks and shovels. Thanks to the miracles of religion, we're cast backwards by millennia.
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
23:36 - I'll take a Cold War over a Holy War

Looks like we're starting to get oil from Russia now.

Reports surfaced last week that Russian oil loaded on a tanker in Greece was bound for the United States. An Exxon Mobil spokeswoman would say only that the company does not comment on specific crude oil purchases.

Imagine... a future in which the US doesn't have to depend on Saudi oil, because it comes from Russia-- now an ally.

Of course, this is what we've been trying to do now for years, and the impetus for great conspiracies like "The US government itself perpetrated the 9/11 attacks so that we could have an excuse to eliminate the Taliban and run pipelines through Afghanistan to the Caspian oil fields". But, well, regardless of what some people will see it as a sign of, it's still a plenty good idea.

23:21 - Now that I wasn't expecting...

My oh my. I must admit that I had no idea there was an Arabic version of The Weakest Link, must less that it's emceed by an evil little horn-rimmed Lebanese woman who scandalizes the Muslim world-- at least, the ones with TV-- with her audacity and criticism of the losing players.

'She's a bitch,'' said Dabbah, a barman in Beirut. ''There's no need to humiliate people just because they don't know the answer. God help her poor husband.''

Reams of newsprint have been dedicated in Lebanese papers to criticizing and even insulting Khoury's stern manner.

And while younger women tend to admire her bold approach and older women have grown to respect her, some still take a more traditional stand.

''She behaves just like a man,'' said Mona, a school teacher and avid watcher of television games shows. ''Who does she think she is? She should be more polite and feminine,'' she said of the crop-haired presenter who always appears in a sharp black suit.

I'd never thought of game shows as being listable among Barbie dolls and tight jeans as our premier weapons against Islamofascism, but...

22:30 - I have a new aspiration.

Here, go check this out... it's Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) introducing a live performance by satirist/humorist Paul Krassner. There's an MP3 of the intro to download, well worth the 1.6MB.

Dan Castellaneta, who does the voice of Homer on The Simpsons, graciously agreed to introduce my performance, which he did from an offstage microphone in order to maintain the image of that blustery cartoon character.

Aww. I always enjoy seeing voice actors do their signature voices live; it's such a trip, seeing familiar voices come out of totally unfamiliar figures. I'd love to see Dan do Homer live. But this is still funny, regardless.
Monday, June 10, 2002
18:32 - Some first-rate eclipsing here at Lord's...

Here are some photos of the solar eclipse that just got finished. We've got the shadows of the trees on the wall of our building, with each aperture between the leaves acting like a pinhole, with the crescent shape clearly visble in each one; and also we have the image of the sun itself, taken through the Mylar of two floppy disks pressed together. (Who said floppies didn't have their uses?)

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..."
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© Brian Tiemann