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News, Pointers & Commentary Archive: May 1998
|29 May 1998
|"Can I play the piano any more?"
"Of course you can."
"Well, I couldn't before!"
--Actor Troy McClure (Phil Hartman) and 'Dr. Zaius' in the musical "Planet of the Apes"
A day of farewells: Of course you've heard about Phil Hartman...I loved his voice work on the Simpsons most of all.
On a much, much smaller scale (so much so as to be trivial in comparison), the following are also departures:
Byte magazine is closing down its print edition, which was a surprise to me. I've often found Byte to be quite valuable.
The "icon garden" on Apple's campus is going away:
- Byte to cease publication [News.com]
Anyone know what's happened to the RobotWisdom WebLog? Its server hasn't been answering for about a week...
And now, for a thing that is not sad: Wednesday's Onion is chock full of good stuff this week. Not for kids.
- New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks
- Gasoline Still Inexplicably Cheaper Than Milk
- Somebody Should Do Something About All The Problems
- Area Man Busts His Ass All Day, And For What?
|27 May 1998
|"Bill Gates is a monocle and a Persian cat away from being the villain in a James Bond movie."
CNN has redesigned their site:
It's nice to have the big sites publicly making downloading speed a priority; it makes it easier for me to make the case for download speed vs. 'aesthetic' overuse of graphics on our own site.
Jon Katz on the MS-DOJ <vague, dismissive noun>:
- Trust and Antitrust [Synapse]"The Microsoft-Justice battle has already become some Other Confrontation, an epic battle in a parallel universe, whose outcome no longer seems to have much relevance to anybody else."
|26 May 1998
|"If this ain't by the book, the book must be wrong."
-- Michael Penn
Been away for a bit, visiting family in Iowa.
Will be occupied a bit longer, as I finally have WebObjects in hand and am zooming through the tutorials and manuals as fast as I can in preparation for some serious geeking out very soon...
Interesting links from the past few days:
- http://www.bedope.com/digdug.jpg (big but worth it)
One of the cooler screen shots I've seen in a long while: BeOS running a Mac emulator running Windows 3.1 running an Apple IIe emulator running an Atari emulator. The geek in me rejoices to see this level of success with emulators...
- Steve Jobs: 'There's Sanity Returning' [BusinessWeek]
Practically a puff piece on Apple from BusinessWeek...nice to have these occasionally instead of nothing but hatchet jobs...
Another link & comment site; worth a visit.
|21 May 1998
|OK, I'm now officially sick and tired of reading about anything related to the Microsoft-DoJ lawsuit. I say we mutiny! Who's with me?No, no...
Free at last: Okay, so it was all voluntary...but my days of chaining myself nightly to my VCR are over for a long while. The Mon-Fri Babylon 5 reruns on TNT have reached their end (and I now have a full collection of episodes "-2s"[shh!]). That's 5 hours a week I get back right there. Woo!
Not only that, but everything else under the sun has finished its TV season -- Homicide, Simpsons, X-Files, Frasier, NYPD Blue, ER and of course Seinfeld (which I only picked back up for that last couple of episodes). There's nothing more to watch for a long time (except for four new B5 eps starting next Wednesday "-2s"[1 hour/week]) "-2s"(and the series finale of The Larry Sanders Show at the end of this month ).
All in all, I will "-2s"in theory have more time now for other things (say, this page -- or maybe a social life? Or, there's always more I can do at work...no, wait, I've got it: laundry).
Ah, well. Best of luck, then, ay?: The recently-pointed-out-to-me link & comment site Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) is apparently going to be taking a hiatus because A) they lack advertising dollars to support the site and B) they want some writing help but haven't found enough:"You have no idea -- or maybe you do! -- what it feels like to have to get on the Web every weekday, wherever you are, no matter how dog-tired you are, and spend 90 minutes to two hours surfing and getting a good column together."I do feel I have some clue about that... :)
If I were able to be more consistent about producing my own page, I might audition to guest-write for their site on occasion, but I don't have the time (or is it the discipline?). Which would bring me to my upcoming meta-Scribble, 'What Now?', if it were written. Uh, heh.
Good luck to the YMMV folks on their next venture; I'm sorry to see them go, and I'll definitely keep stopping by on occasion to see what they're up to.
It's late, and nothing else sufficiently grabbed my interest in the last two days to be worth posting right this minute, so to bed. Have a good one...
|19 May 1998
|"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy."
A Quick New Scribble: "The Great Leap Forward?": A breathless story on a technological breakthrough -- except it's not...
From the department of "wish I'd thought of that":
Philip Dyer takes on Jai Singh's assertion that there are 1,219,985 occurences of the phrase "beleagured Apple" on the web (he wasn't even close). His column not only hilariously puts the harsh light of truth on Singh's boo-boo but also provides valuable lessons in web search techniques. Read it.
- Beleaguered Reporting [Macworld]
Let's say you're Microsoft. What would be the very next thing you would change about Windows? I know my answer, but apparently theirs is not "make it cleaner, more consistent and more stable". John Dvorak is just as unhappy as I am about MS' skewed priorities:
Yo. What he said.
- 'Bill Gates, come home!' [PC Magazine]
"In Win 98, for example, if you open one of the dialog boxes on the desktop, you'll see that instead of just popping up, it squeezes onto the screen in a new way. With machines crashing left and right, why is coding like this being done in the first place? Doesn't anyone at Microsoft think that resolving bugs is more important than adding unnecessary nonsense? Maybe not. It's not that I don't think some of these visual features are cool. They are. But how about getting this OS rock-solid first?"
(I wonder if usability and stability would be bigger priorities for Microsoft if there were a more stable, more elegant competing operating system with, say, a 25% market share...I hope we find out someday...)
- Tonight's 90-minute NYPD Blue finale, 8:30 central on ABC.
|18 May 1998
|"The number you have dialed is imaginary. Please rotate your phone 90 degrees and try again."
[Was busy with out-of-town visitors & a class reunion this weekend; sorry 'bout the lack of updates.]
Various/assorted/odds & ends/flotsam/cache-clearing:
Before anyone asks, yes I do get tired of constantly mentioning Microsoft. But if you live in the computing world it's pretty %!$*# unavoidable.
- Security Bugaboo in MS Outlook? [Wired News]
"The user interface of Microsoft's Outlook 98 email application is the cause of a new security-related bug, where users could be fooled into thinking that an unencrypted communication is actually encrypted -- thus sending potentially sensitive information in plaintext over the wires."
- Microsoft: Derailed? [Upside]
An extended (multipage) analysis by Jonathan Littman of how Microsoft got where it is and what could break its stranglehold on the software market: itself?
"'The backward compatibility [with previous Microsoft products] we have to deal with makes everything a hack,' complains a Microsoft program manager, who would only speak anonymously. 'We have to work with the old legacy code, and it makes the software bigger, more bloated, slower. We can't start from scratch.'
Committees debate long lists of features that may either improve or merely clutter products. Innovation doesn't enter into it ... Quality, code stability, performance and security are given short shrift. The mantra at Microsoft is ship or die. 'It drives every decision,' he says. 'Everything is based on your ship date.' "
- Where the gals are [Salon, from RobotWisdom]
A fascinating analysis of fictional female pop-culture characters; according to the author, the ones women flock to seem to be the needy, insecure types (Ally McBeal etc.) instead of the strong self-sufficient ones (Scully, Buffy, etc.). By Laura Miller.
- Comic Book Creators Are Like Rock Stars (Sometimes) [Addict]
A short but sweet interview with Neil Gaiman by Carl Steadman
- A brash Bell, brash Bill & brash bull [Inter@ctive Week] by Tom Steinert-Threlkeld
"Could it be that Microsoft really is not ready to release Windows 98? And the best way to save face is to force the DOJ to block its release? It gets to fix the bugs, while still milking the role of victim of an unfair assault on Free Enterprise.
Nah, couldn't be."
- It's Your Problem (Not Theirs) [James Gleick, from YMMV]
A screed against the sorry state of software license agreements:
"Steve Tapia, a Microsoft corporate attorney, says it just wouldn't be fair to hold software to the same standards as, say, a car. That's lucky for him, because car makers have found it very expensive to sell cars with defects--especially defects they knew about. They can't just disclaim any obligation to guarantee their products."
- Plenty Of Soda Still Available Across Nation [The Onion]
An up-to-the-minute status report on this crucial resource: "Americans have one less thing to worry about today."
- Christine Quinn's quotes
A nice little quote page with some gems (including today's tagline).
If they in fact made superior products (which they occasionally prove they can do -- e.g., Office 98 for MacOS) I wouldn't mind nearly so much that they own the known computesphere. But "first-class products" and "Microsoft" intersect too rarely to justify their market position.
|13 May 1998
|The best way to convince a fool he is wrong is to let him have his way.
-- Josh Billings
Well, it could have been a bit clearer: The Big Secret Apple OS Strategy is now on the table. Sort of.
Coverage is everywhere, with report A contradicting rant B, but the general sense among Mac developers is that it's a Good Thing and that Apple's on the Right Track. Brief, brief summary from an Apple soldier (quoted on Scripting News):[We're taking] the product that was code-named Rhapsody and officially calling it Mac OS X, shipping in 1999 with the Carbon APIs to ease porting efforts, and the Blue Box for existing binaries.My primary unanswered question Monday night was "WHAT ABOUT THE YELLOW BOX"? (With the secondary question, "uh, Rhapsody for Intel? Anyone? Bueller?")
Today according to "StepWise", Yellow Box for Windows is very much alive (BIG sigh of relief) but Rhapsody for Intel will probably be sent to Coventry after Rhapsody 1.0.
[Update: A nice overview of the change by Jorg Brown of Connectix was posted on MacinTouch this morning.]
(Cleanup note: "Mac OS 2000" was a name listed in several of the WWDC session titles, but it was taken off later the same day. A decoy name, or was there a late-breaking change?)
Someday I hope to write as well as this woman:
It's literature for geeks, sure...but if you value excellence, if you value achievement, you'll probably get something out of reading her prose even if you don't know the first thing about programming. She knows how programmers' minds work, and she knows how to communicate those workings with just words. Great, great stuff.
- The dumbing down of programming, Part 1 by Ellen Ullman [Salon]
- The dumbing down of programming, Part 2
Especially good spots:"It is a powerful siren-song lure: You can make your program do all these wonderful and complicated things, and you don't really need to understand."And my favorite:
...when the inevitable difficulties of debugging came, [the Visual C++ programmers] seemed at sea. In the face of the usual weird and unexplainable outcomes, they stood a bit agog. It was left to the UNIX-trained programmers to fix things. The UNIX team members were accustomed to having to know.
...software engineering [is] not about right and wrong but only better and worse, solutions that [solve] some problems while ignoring or exacerbating others.In the end, the overall "productivity" of the system, the fact that it came into being at all, was the handiwork not of tools that sought to make programming seem easy, but the work of engineers who had no fear of "hard."She has a book. I still haven't bought it. I need to.
Yet Another Brief Grammatical Rant: It's ITS!
His does not have an apostrophe. Her does not have an apostrophe. Logically enough, its does not have an apostrophe.
His fish was named Fluffy.
Her personality was outshone only by her smile.
Its color will be Bondi blue.
Its surface is shiny.
Its usage is apparently very hard to remember.
If there is an apostrophe in "it's", it represents a missing letter, namely: She is = She's, He is = He's, and It is = It's.
Three different "professional" news sites used unnecessary apostrophes in "its" yesterday and it just sent me round the bend...
I tell you, I've had a craving for the feature set of TableFutz (which is still in embryonic form) at least once or twice a week for the last two months. I'm looking forward to the day after I write it.
It's going to be a Yellow Box app, so it'll be Win- and Mac-compatible...when it's written...
Brief clue: dealing with tab-delimited and comma-separated files in Excel or BBEdit is not nearly as easy and seamless as it ought to be. The need to manipulate and massage data in raw text files will never go away...(especially since HTML falls in that category). Someone should do something! ;)
|11 May 1998
|Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
Wouldya look at that, it was a wolf: As weeks go, it was fairly packed...first the introduction of the $1299 iMac, then a hubbub over it having no floppy drive, then the announcement of a compatible USB floppy/Imation drive, then more grumbling about the price point, then Larry Ellison shooting his mouth off [at the bottom of the article] about even cheaper products coming.
And oh yes, over here there's the new line of PowerBooks, the slowest and cheapest of which (at around $2300) matches the speed of any Pentium notebook at any price.
And let's not leave out the record $1.9 million day at the web-based Apple Store.
A fairly positive set of reports, yes?
Yet Apple can't shake the word 'beleaguered'. I've long wondered what it will take to drop that adjective; you'd think two consecutive quarters of profit, a snazzy line of products people are actually buying and a 52-week stock high (not to mention $1.6 billion in cash on hand) would count for something, but I guess not.
Maybe it's just that they would use a new adjective, they just can't think of one... hmmm... aggressive? Lean? Hungry? I like 'scrappy' myself. I think the snail, bunny and upcoming steamroller ad would not come from a 'beleaguered' company.
Expect more big news from the scrappy Cupertino gang in the next couple of days regarding exactly where the heck Rhapsody will fit in their OS strategy as well as the answer to the question: "Mac OS 2000????".
Having it both ways:
- Nothing must stop Windows 98! [Salon]"Last month, Gates insisted to the U.S. Senate that his company is perennially vulnerable to new competitors snapping at its heels; this month he's holding the national well-being for ransom by insisting that any government interference with a single product release will unleash doom upon us all. Out of one side of its mouth, Microsoft tells us it's no monopoly; out of the other, it insists that it's the sole engine driving our economy. Well, Bill, which is it?"
Check out the cool new stuff on http://www.starwars.com/ -- including stills from the new movie. (Thanks to "Chris Tess" for the heads-up.)
I think it's cool that they're putting up official preview material this far in advance.
Interesting tidbit: apparently there's going to be a lot of lightsaber fighting.
Am working on a new Scribble, "What Now?". May include a poll. Watch for it.
|4 May 1998
|Am having a crisis of purpose and am feeling in need of a break from doing this site. If I had to guess I'd say I'll be quiet for about a week. Expect me when you see me...
Q: What the &%^* is a 'sneak peak'?
A: It's the most annoying and most common typo I see on web sites. This time it's on http://ogrady.com/ (they may have fixed it or taken it off by now; it's in the May 2 1998 edition), but I see it frequently on plenty of other sites.
I want all web writers out there to try to remember this framing of the difference:
If I ever see the phrase being used to actually mean 'covert hilltop', I'll stop being annoyed by it so much...but it hasn't happened yet...
- A sneak peak is a surreptitious mountain (that is, a NONSENSICAL PAIRING OF WORDS)
- A sneak peek is a stolen look
"Here we go again...for the 6th time", or "Wolf! Wolf!": Hey, everybody! Apple has a 'milestone' to announce! They're inviting the media! Everybody run! Get your hopes up that they'll finally reveal what the Big Secret Plan is! Everybody try not to remember last time when all they did was announce the Apple Store! Be excited! Hey! Woo!
I've seen this act too many times, I think. I'll believe there's groundbreaking news when I hear it and not before. Until then, I'm just expecting this to be another case of Apple crying "wolf." Media consensus is that it's mostly going to be the introduction of the new PowerBook line -- which is very cool, make no mistake, it's just not wake-the-kids news.
There's a new batch of (free) Mac desktop pictures from Rachel Robbins, largely San Francisco scenes:
Dude: Last night's From the Earth to the Moon episodes were most excellent. Memorable line, quoted from Plutarch: "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted."
While I'm off getting my head together, life in order, and metaphorical oil changed, get your fix of news & links from the usual suspects -- MacInTouch, Scripting News, MacNN, "MacCentral", and the merry band of linkers listed at the bottom of the page.
|1 May 1998
|In honor of the approximate first anniversary of this site in its current form, we now return you to the original color scheme...
Is it worth $100 to you? John Dvorak says Win98 is just a big bug-fix, which isn't something one should have to pay much for:
All the PCs I work on are already running Windows NT, so we won't be contributing to the Win98 upgrade revenue stream. Sorry, Bill.
- Win 98: I Won't Pay [PC Magazine]
"Why should I buy something only to find it doesn't work right, and then have to buy it again in hopes that I'll have better luck the second time around?"
Elegance Bigotry: A fine (new?) term for what I feel most days of the week (yes, sometimes about the Mac too). See what it means:
- David Does Windows by David Pogue [Macworld]
Unsolicited endorsements: HBO's From the Earth to the Moon is just first-class TV.
Also, tonight is the season finale of Homicide: Life on the Street, which promises to be outstanding. (Part 1 of 2, 9:00 Central on NBC).
- Revenge of the "early adopters" [Salon]
- Sound Salvation [Salon]
This article is actually mostly a rip on Kevin Bacon and Woody Allen's forays into music, which ordinarily I wouldn't care to read except for this one incisive, brilliant observation (speaking as a musician, of course):"Why is it that actors dabbling in music are doomed to fail, while musicians turned actors tend to steal scenes? ... Is it because pop singers, to become pop stars, need such a gigantic persona to come across onstage that wide-screen enormity makes them just that much bigger? Or is it because the best pop music is a shot at truth, while actors are too well-trained at pretending?"
- The Top 10 UK movie cliches [The Guardian, from RobotWisdom]
I guess when you've read 1500 scripts, some common threads have got to appear. They're not what I would have guessed.