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Steve Bogart

News, Pointers & Commentary Archive: March 1998

30 March 1998 One day you're going to have to face/A deep dark truthful mirror
And it's going to tell you things that I still love you too much to say
-- "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror", Elvis Costello, Spike
People who know the NeXT OS are getting rather excited about Rhapsody's progress. Cool.
The great, the simply OK and the appalling: I generally like Salon, and sometimes I love it, but on occasion it just baffles me by printing something so, so bad...

First, an example of a great Salon article: if not for this article it would never have occurred to me to track down the movie 'In the Heat of the Night', but now I know that it'll be more than worth the effort when I do.

Here's a more typical Salon article, presenting a sorta-centrist analysis of a political book, pointing out some of the behind-the-scenes machinations and some of the facts that didn't make it into the book. Interesting reading if you follow politics. But I fail to see how this next piece of (um) writing got published (warning: it's at least PG-13): It takes shots at the Oscars for being unapologetically commercial (but doesn't explain how, just makes the assertion). Fine, that's just sloppy writing around a potentially legitimate criticism. But the author then pretends to know what's going on in every actor or presenter's head (not to mention the Academy's), making up some of the most insulting and negative things to say about each person involved. She seems to have a special hatred for Kate Winslet but doesn't give many clues as to why. I'd quote a passage or two but it's really just not worth reprinting any of it.

Nothing that won an award was deserving according to the author, and why? Because neither she nor her friends liked or even saw each thing. Sure, whatever. Hey, I think L.A. Confidential should have gotten Best Picture, but I'm not going to make up garbage about everyone involved just because I disagree with the result. That's childish.

It's an astonishingly ill-mannered, presumptively speculative, utterly venomous piece. At least when Dennis Miller's ranting about a subject he usually has some sort of point to make; this is just bile.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people write this sort of thing; I'm just surprised that Salon paid someone to do it.

29 March 1998 What I wanted to say: So where's your watchdog, who doesn't seem to want you near any other guy unless he's there to keep an eye on you? Think he'd have a problem with us conversing freely like this? How does that make you feel?
What I said: So, where's <name omitted>?
Weekend Reading:
27 March 1998 no time for funny caption. must hurry to work.
Mac Folk: Rachel Robbins has posted a new batch of (free!) desktop pictures for downloading:
Oh, please: The Wall Street Journal ran this dubiously-researched article today: Let's see, where to start? I have no problem with anyone looking to verify Apple's claims, it just seems like the whole article is half-baked with no hard evidence, just a lot of innuendo. Note how many times the word may is used (emphases are mine).
Attempting to look tough, Apple may be treading on shaky ground as it retaliates in a campaign for its PowerPC G3 chip.
Fair enough as a lead-in; now what is that statement based on?
"The Bytemark test does show the G3 to be slightly faster than the Pentium II," says Cynthia Morgan, editor of Byte, which is published by McGraw-Hill. But "there may be some problems" with one of the tests used to substantiate Apple's claim, she says.
Oh, dear. You mean you aren't sure? Does this sound solid enough to publish if you're the Wall Street Journal?
Byte is redoing the test and expects to release results by next week.
And I expect an article in the WSJ about the results even if they verify Apple's claims. Right? Right?
Other tests, which aren't being redone, do substantiate Apple's claims...
Well, isn't that nice. One factual sentence, well hidden, contradicting the entire article's premise.
Intel disputes Apple's claims of faster performance, but Intel spokesman Howard High says his company won't elaborate, and doesn't want to "get into a benchmarking war."
Gee. Why not? Oh, that's right, Intel advertises that it puts fun into its chips. Can't measure that.
Asked to comment based only on a description of the ad, one advertising-law specialist says Apple's approach could leave the door open for Intel to fight back.
Why was this specialist not shown the actual ad? Does the WSJ not have the budget to ship her a videotape? Doesn't she have a VCR? Doesn't she have a multimedia-capable computer? Come on, this is sloppy.

Yes, I'm being really nitpicky. But this is the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud; I expect better from them.

Let me be clear: if Apple's claims are not substantiated by this test that's to be redone next week, they are certainly fair game for some critical articles like this. But until that test is run, all I get from this article is that A) some tests do support Apple's claims, B) some tests will be re-run next week and C) Intel doesn't really like the campaign. This is news?

If that counts as news, how about the WSJ runs more articles like this:

Actually, those stories sound an awful lot like The Onion. Which would logically bring me to...
Weekend Reading:
...except that I've run out of time. I'll post a bunch of nifty article links later this weekend though. Promise.
25 March 1998 Ran out of time. More on Friday.
ABC, 123, MAD: I'm not sure I agree with the approach, but Jesse Berst is on the prowl with yet another user petition; this time it's about getting a money-back guarantee for software that doesn't work as advertised. Sign it if you're so inclined. Bill Machrone has a better summary of the problem, to me: But the really cool link for the day is taken from Machrone's column: These folks know a lot about interface design and aren't shy about pointing out examples of bad design. See their Hall of Shame page for a treasure trove of well-written critiques of common software, including a section on badly written error messages that should be read by every programmer once a year.

Especially interesting is their entire section devoted to Windows 95's interface inconsistencies and missteps which points out that for many things Windows 3.1 had a superior (or at least more consistent) interface.

There are a lot more pieces of their site than just those I've mentioned. All are highly recommended reading.

23 March 1998 I think it's time I switched to a different (more sustainable) update schedule - probably M-W-F. I'm going to try it this week and see if I like it. See ya on W.
Free speech vs. school policy, round 422: See the kid's final comment for a handy clue to an approach that should perhaps be looked into more often, namely: Add a dash of parental oversight and difficult issues can clear right up.
Jesse Berst, on the side of the users again, points out the various things that smell bad about Microsoft's beta testing program for Windows 98: Speaking of Win98, it's going on sale now at a list price of $209.95 and an upgrade price of $99.95. Doesn't that seem artificially high? (For comparison, MacOS 8.1 is $99 list, $69 for an upgrade. Linux is freely downloadable. BeOS Release 3 is $99.95 list, $69.95 introductory price. OS/2 Version 4 is, um, $229/$139 for upgrade. Hm.)
More good news for me: I've finally 'finished/won' Mars Rising, the addictive Mac video game I've been playing off & on for a couple of months now. I reached the end of the game (level 28, I think) with four ships left, even. Now I can stop playing it. I hope.
Any Dragonriders of Pern fans out there? I was caught by surprise this weekend when I saw the cover of a new Anne McCaffrey book, The Masterharper of Pern, staring at me from an ad in Sunday's Parade magazine.

I never know if or when McCaffrey will write any more Pern books, so I'm always thrilled when I find one. Now the only question is, do I order it from Amazon or head over to Library Ltd.? Amazon's pretty cheap and I'm not in an awful hurry...Amazon wins, I think.

19 March 1998 I won't be posting tomorrow; see you Monday...
An persuasive alternate view on taxing Internet transactions: On a side note: like Synapse, helpfully provides a 'printer-friendly version' (like the above link) that contains all the text of an otherwise multi-page article AND ditches most of the extraneous menubars, graphics and ads. Sounds more like a 'reader-AND-printer-friendly version' to me...
Weekend Reading:
18 March 1998 Lilith: "I'm sorry to hear your marriage ended in a shambles."
Niles: "Ditto."
--last week's Frasier
New Scribble: Some GOOD News
The obligatory pointer to the Jobs keynote: There were some fine product announcements and some funny quotes, but the most disturbing thing to me is that he didn't address the notebook market at all after Apple just canceled most of its notebook line (including the PowerBook G3) without a replacement product in place! Hello?

It actually wouldn't really bother me except that there's a professor here who wanted a PowerBook 2400/180 (which is now discontinued) but now is left hanging wondering if the 2400 line is snuffed or if the rumored 2400/240 will materialize. You'd think the canceling of one line and the announcement of the next would happen somewhat nearer to each other in time...

17 March 1998 I was going to put up a hefty chunk of content last night, but got carried away chatting with friends. There are worse things...
Sometimes Mr. Jobs behaves better than expected: He took no salary from Apple last year, and though he still only has one share of stock, he does have options to buy 30,000 at a good price if he so chooses.

It's not quite the same as if he actually owned stock in his own company (which would be preferable to many of us on the sidelines), but it's more incentive to improve Apple's fortunes than we knew he had before.

On a related note, StepWise takes a crack at defending Mr. Jobs' rude (sorry, "confrontational") interviewing style:
A premature declaration of victory, but fun to read nonetheless: Craig Cox argues that the toasted-Intel-dancer ad turns every disco Intel ad back on itself and makes it an ad for Apple from now on...
You heard it here first: The first piece of shareware I will write for public release will be dubbed TableFutz. I'll be writing it as a Yellow Box app so it will run on Rhapsody, Win 95/NT and (eventually, I presume) MacOS.

What does it do? Data crunchers can probably guess a few things about it from the title, but I'm not going to give away too much yet (someone might take the idea and run with it -- which would be fine since it would save me the work of writing it, but it would take away the fun of writing it too). Estimated arrival date of version 1: early 1999 (Hey, I don't even have Rhapsody yet, give me some time...)

I've long wanted to contribute to the general good of the computing world by coming up with some useful software (and making a couple of bucks here and there from, say, a $10 piece of software wouldn't hurt). I think I've got a good idea for a useful app here...

16 March 1998 Show's over! It went well, too...we'll see what the reviewers say in a few days, but the audience response was quite favorable. Naturally, there's a hefty backlog of work to get caught up on...
Coming this Saturday: If you're a Monty Python fan, you won't want to miss this recent gathering of the five surviving members of the group (with Graham Chapman present as a jar of ashes, of course). I'm pretty sure it'll be a keeper. Hosted by Robert Klein.
This month's Wired Magazine (issue 6.04, not yet posted for free) has a fascinating article on e-mail list culture, making the point that it's a more universal way to reach (and expand) an audience than a web site is (visiting a site takes a conscious act, whereas an e-mail list doesn't require any action beyond the initial subscription...also, whole e-mails get forwarded more often than URLs to sites).

It made me start to think about switching to solely an e-mail based way of doing what I'm doing, but I would really hate to lose the HTML formatting. I could wait until most mail clients support HTML (which will take forever), or I could have a way for readers to subscribe to a 'tickler' message which would be sent when new content has been posted, or I could keep things just the way they are, or...

Thoughts? I'm just beginning to consider these issues again; I'm in no rush to decide anything.

Tomorrow may be another Big Day for Apple. Steve Jobs is giving a keynote at Seybold and may pull out some big unexpected announcements or some unexciting ones. For coverage see the main Mac sites: MacInTouch, MacWEEK, MacNN, etc...
13 March 1998 (continued from yesterday)
Morpheus: "You have called me here, Haroun. It is unwise to summon what you cannot dismiss."
Haroun Al Raschid: "You are threatening me?"
Morpheus: "I do not threaten. I merely advise caution."
--"Ramadan", Sandman #50 by Neil Gaiman
It's opening night for the show; I'm taking part of the day off from work. It felt good to sleep...

Not much time to write today, so I'm just going to clear my cache of some links I haven't gotten around to posting yet.


Apple-related: Net stories:
12 March 1998 Haroun Al Raschid: "There is a tale they tell of a fisherman who caught a jade bottle in his nets, who opened the bottle and released a genie..."
Morpheus: "In the tale he talked the genie back into the bottle. But the Genie was foolish, and boastful, and lonely. I am none of these things."
--"Ramadan", Sandman #50 by Neil Gaiman
HOLY COW: Sometimes life just throws you a splendidly unexpected curve ball which immediately brightens your existence. This is something I never, ever expected to read: Neil Gaiman's coming to Wash U! Next week! Wow!

I was a faithful reader of Sandman since issue 1; I have Violent Cases, Signal to Noise, Angels & Visitations and several of his other works. I love his writing. But I can say with certainty that I didn't expect to see Gaiman in person for years or possibly ever, and certainly not on the WU campus.

I met Dave Sim (Cerebus writer/artist) twice back when he was in the habit of touring America, but that's been the extent of my major comic creator sightings. I'm psyched. Really psyched. This will be great.

Burn, baby, burn: Following up the Snail ad with a direct attack on the ubiquitous Intel Village-People/Astronauts/"Technicians", Apple kicks butt and takes names again with some more aggressive advertising. See this page for some fun facts and graphics (I especially like the size comparison between the G3 and the P-II) as well as the ad itself in QuickTime form. "Disco Inferno" takes on a whole new meaning now... And in a widely unexpected turn of events, Apple's stock price has risen quite dramatically in the last few months. Doubled, even.
11 March 1998 All right, already! Enough with the snow outside! We've got plenty! Yeesh!
New Scribble: Simplify, Simplify (finally...)
A must-read: Here's a handy reminder of the everlasting nature of the net...make sure you don't mind if everyone reads everything you post in a public place, and remember that everywhere is a public place...
Darn right: David Berlind of Windows Sources (rebroadcast via MSNBC, ironically) questions whether integrating a web browser with Windows is really such a hot idea in the first place.
This seems bad:
"When Dallas TV station WFFA turned on its new HDTV transmitter to test it, the powerful signal overwhelmed low-power heart monitors at Baylor University Medical Center. As a result, nurses were unable to keep an eye on their patients' heartbeats."
10 March 1998 Sheridan: "I really hate it when you do that."
Kosh: "Good."
--"Matters of Honor", Babylon 5
Early last week our network was attacked, along with a large portion of the rest of the Net. All of our Windows NT machines went to the Blue Screen of Death last Sunday night, and our mail was down until the next morning. The attack didn't cause widespread data loss -- it just meant we had to reboot the servers -- but there is at least one network drive that's caused us trouble since then as a result. We thought it was just us until more news stories came out announcing that NASA as well as other universities had been attacked in the same time frame. Only our Windows NT machines with active TCP/IP connections were affected -- no Macs or Unix boxes were.

Sure there's a patch for the attack, but we didn't have it installed. And our NT 'expert' just left. Hmph.

AOL Rules the World? This lengthy Fortune article seeks to explain the "remarkable, unlikely triumph" of AOL. The article is very informative but only looks at the big-business side of the Net and at whose brand is dominant. The Internet is not Mr. Case's neighborhood, AOL is (unless you're a money magazine, I guess). Quote:
Only in cyberspace could an outfit thought to be in mortal peril just 15 months ago now stand accused of wielding a monopoly -- by a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, no less.
Monopoly?! I haven't had to do a thing to either my site or the Olin School site to accomodate Mr. Case or his customers (other than write decent HTML, but that's something one should do regardless) and I haven't had to pay him a cent to do what I'm doing.

The Internet is much bigger than AOL and always will be. Let's not exaggerate AOL's power.

The Apple Media Player: Apple's Next Big Thing, the AMP (according to a number of rumors discussions) has finally been written about on a major news site: Sounds kinda cool, but how much will it be and when will it come out? Apple sure isn't saying.
Yes, one more Gates thing: Here's an interview with the Gates Himself, giving His Side of the competition story. As I'v said before, it's instructive to find out how he views the world.

Inexplicably, there is no division between the questions and answers in the article's text; you have to use context to know who's talking (bringing me yet again to one of my primary complaints about the Web: Sites Lack Editors).

Just one thing: he says in interview after interview that Microsoft keeps Windows cheap, and points to that as evidence that they don't have a monopoly (since in a monopoly they could overcharge and make a killing). However, Microsoft has an immense profit margin, way above hardware or combination hardware/software companies like Compaq, IBM and Apple. I submit that Windows is not cheap at its current price and that Microsoft is making monopoly rents from it and from its Office suite.

That may be a hard proposal to swallow; I'll probably explain myself further in a Scribble someday.

And finally, a bit of site news:
9 March 1998 Cos moving ahead means leaving something behind
You've gotta make a move sometime
--"Make a Move", The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Wakefield
First order of business: Come see my show this coming weekend at Wash U! I play Readymoney Matt, Mack the Knife's lieutenant. It's actually more of a musical than an opera; there's plenty of dialogue (a great deal of which is funny). I do think it's worth seeing (of course).
The best summary of the Gates-in-Washington hoo-hah that I found was Salon's: Favorite quote:
The message from Microsoft -- repeated over and over again at the hearing and anywhere else Gates is visible today, like the cover of this week's Newsweek -- is, We have to innovate or we will die! The government shouldn't stop us from innovating! This mantra might be persuasive if it didn't sound an alarm for anyone who knows Microsoft's history.

Microsoft has been so often criticized for copying or buying up other people's technology, rather than developing innovations in-house, that its latest PR offensive carries a whiff of the old "lady doth protest too much."

Free speech vs. community standards: Is it all right for a school to request a change in a student's personal website? Is it legal for a school to require a change in a student's website if it's not hosted by the school? How about if the student is making threatening remarks about the principal and his family? When does speech become actionable?

Or is the solution simply more speech? Publicize the student's remarks among his peers and let peer pressure work its magic?

Surely there's a right answer, I just don't know what it is.

I now own a relic. Still works just as well as it did the day I bought it, though. I'm curious to see what exactly it is they'll come up with next, but as I and so many others have lamented repeatedly, Apple seems to be uninterested in giving us much of a clue what that is. In such an information vacuum, people give up on waiting and choose other solutions that they get locked into.

It's the opposite of Microsoft's vaporware-announcement approach in a way, but it seems to me that going to this extreme is just as flawed. Please, start telling us what you've got up your sleeve, Apple!

As my friend Seth pointed out:

It's been almost a year since your first scribble, and we still don't know what the heck Apple is doing.

Finally, was last week a great week for TV or what? The Lilith episode was about the best Frasier I've ever seen, and NYPD Blue had Sharon Lawrence and Bill Brochtrup back in their old roles (where they've been missed greatly). To top it off, it was announced that Homicide is about to start a run of 12 new episodes.

Who says there's nothing good on TV?

4 March 1998 Threepenny Opera is taking up all my slack time; there might not be any more updates here until the weekend...
Bill Gates is testifying in Washington about whether his company is abusing its market power or competing fairly. I haven't been following this closely enough to say much about it, but here's a report: In PR move that I don't think would have been done before the 'informal and immediate' culture of the Internet, Slate is publishing diary entries from Gates telling his side of things: Bizarrely enough, the former poster child for Microsoft market power (Apple) was not invited to come testify. How quickly people forget.
"Because that's what everyone else is doing" strikes again: When it comes to delayed vaporware that is supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread, nobody does it better than Microsoft. They've got everyone salivating over Windows NT 5.0 which won't be showing up for who-knows-how-many months. I seem to remember similar claims of Computing Nirvana when Windows NT 4.0 arrived, and look where we are today...somewhat better off, surely, but still nowhere near the (over)Promised Land.

Here's a LAN Times editorial on the dance Microsoft causes between managers who hear inflated claims and the IS people who have to actually make the software run:

1 March 1998 "Those who do not archive the past are condemned to retype it."
-- Practical UNIX & Internet Security, Garfinkel & Spafford
Recommended viewing: If you have HBO, try to find a time when you can catch "The Pentagon Wars" with Kelsey Grammer and Cary Elwes. Very funny and a bit scary at the same time. Their site's frame-based, though; nobody's perfect, I guess...
On occasion (and with some prompting by friends) I've considered California to be an option for my next move; after all, it's where everything 'important' is happening in computing. However, there are a number of downsides, not the least of which is the sheer distance from everyone else I'd like to visit on a somewhat regular basis (Cedar Rapids, St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville, Kalamazoo, Minneapolis...). Dan Gillmor points out a bunch of the other downsides that take away from the quality of life in the Valley: My current position is that it's a fine place to visit but I'd rather live in either St. Louis or possibly Chicago. That could, of course, all change with the right offer...
A fine cartoon:
Remember the Haiku Error Messages? Somebody copied them all and forwarded them around without crediting the authors or Salon. As could be expected, a copy of them got back to Salon. Their reaction is what you'd expect but still very reasonably written and worth reading: At least one person subsequently wrote in to admit responsibility (it's halfway down the page): I think it's important -- no, very important, to the level of calling it a Good Thing -- to credit the originator of something when you can; this was an interesting case to observe.
Sometimes Chairman Jobs is just scary. Read this. There are a number of things that I'd like to say about my impressions of him (including a thing Heidi MacDonald once said about Dave Sim in The Comics Journal), but what if I want to work for Apple someday? Hmm.
The Gartner Group, ordinarily a fairly decent bunch, recently published a fairly lukewarm analysis of the prospects of Rhapsody. Fair enough, they're entitled to their opinion; however, they were drawing conclusions based on clear misunderstandings of what Rhapsody is meant to do and what it has already proved it is capable of doing. Ernst D. Bunker to the rescue: If even the Gartner Group can't quite parse what Rhapsody is about/for/good at, then one has to wonder if anyone outside the hardcore Mac and NeXT communities has understood the Rhapsody plan very well. Hopefully when it's actually released the story will be told more clearly.
This week I'll be having rehearsals every night from 6:00 on for the Threepenny Opera (showing March 13-15 here at Wash U), so my free time for page updates will be severely curtailed. Don't expect a talkative, posting Steve for much of this week...

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