Level Grinding with Lapham

August 14, 2007

I know, I know: even liberals are supposed to hate Lewis Lapham. He’s a one-note, dreary hater of everything America stands for! He’s the very model of an ivory tower, limousine liberal! And he’s clueless about The Beatles!

Even so, I have found his Notebook in Harpers (the magazine he refuses to leave) to be consistently excellent. A few months back he devised a strong defense of George W. Bush—all it required was the will to poison the planet. This month he discusses two books that suggest that “war is an idea”. It isn’t natural aggression; it’s a cultural practice that could conceivably become as rare and unthinkable as human slavery.

Lapham makes a convincing case for his authors, marking the rise of pacifism and the increasingly burdensome cost of war in lives, money and the environment.

But what caps it are the last two paragraphs. If war is unsuitable for human existence, what can be done with it? Out of left field comes Lapham’s answer—his newfound love for World of Warcraft:

I was reminded of the oversight soon after the Rainbow Room briefing when I came across the Internet game World of Warcraft, said to be played by as many as 8.5 million combatants located at all points of the geopolitical compass who pay $15 a month to pursue their dreams of godlike power in the online world of Azeroth. My guest pass granted access to the kingdoms Mulgore and Durotar, brought with it directions to the battlefields in the Burning Crusade, explained how to spot the differences between a Troll, a Silithid insect, and an Orc, when to beware the Blood Elves in Azshara, where to gather magic spells with which to semble the Scepter of the Shifting Sands. Lost for an hour in the Elwynn Forest among the Murloc Oracles of Crystal Lake, I began to hope for rescue by Kissinger or Brzezinski, operating as the online avatars Bismarck and Maximus, sending reinforcements (in the personae of dwarves and shadow priests) from their computers in Washington.

Here at last was the world in which they could do what the Romans could do, the one manufactured by Blizzard Entertainment drifting in the same orbit as the one imagined by Carl von Clausewitz, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and George W. Bush. With the small difference, of course, that on earth some of the game players bleed, and it doesn’t do them much good to know that Bismarck and Maximus think they’re virtual-reality toys battling the warrior monks of Azeroth.

Pick up this month’s Harpers for the full Notebook. I thought the Lewis Lapham lunchbox gag from The Simpsons was hilarious enough. But even the fake DVD commentary guys from McSweeney’s couldn’t match the bizarre reality of Lapham playing Warcraft. It certainly makes for good copy.

IE 7 First Look!

May 2, 2007

Only months after…everyone on the planet!

Upon receiving a new computer at work, I began an endless series of Windows Updates, reboots, and click-through agreements. One of these updates was for long-awaited web browser Internet Explorer 7.

After installing a Genuine Advantage (?) agreement filled with hostile language, Windows Update began downloading and installing other important Windows components. As it began to install Internet Explorer, I got my first glimpse of the revised browser. Click for the full damage:

An Internet Explorer introductory screen with mangled text.

I’m excited already!

Granted, this wasn’t a completely clean machine. A previous user of the computer changed the Windows DPI settings, and I assume this preference led to this hideous display. Even so, I fail to see how IE7 earns its golden ring.

Don’t worry. I did comprehensive testing of IE7. After re-re-visiting Windows Update, I went to the first and last site anyone needs to visit in Internet Explorer.

The Schmaily Schmow

March 24, 2007

As presented in Internet time!

A self-parody of The Daily Show: The Schmaily Schmow.

Thursday night The Daily Show did a segment on the Viacom/YouTube lawsuit!

Inevitably, it went up on YouTube yesterday!

Inevitably, the video got removed today. Somebody at Viacom Legal is working weekends!

And here’s the parody LiveJournal. Perhaps it will someday have original humor.

Meanwhile, my own post is already outdated. Enjoy!

Twitter Roulette

March 16, 2007

It’s time to play Twitter Roulette!

  1. Make your way to the Twitter front page. (Or if you’re already a member, the Public Timeline.)
  2. Scan it for SPOILERS!
  3. If there are none, refresh the page.
  4. Repeat until you have refreshed a preset number of times or until somebody spoils that Battlestar Galactica episode you haven’t watched yet.

It worked for me!

A Battlestar Galactica spoiler in the Twitter Public Timeline.


February 22, 2007

I think this Lenten sacrifice will have benefits all around:

Wikipedia, as blocked by my /etc/hosts file

So long, Wikipedia! I’ll see you and your Warhammer timelines in 40 days! You won’t be missed!

Jobs On Music

February 6, 2007

Well played, Mr. Jobs!

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.

Sure, Steve Jobs is saying this in his own self-interest, with iTunes lock-in being deemed illegal in Norway. But you can never go wrong by comparing yourself favorably to the cold, cold hearts of the music industry.

Apple has long had some of the most unfriendly copy restriction management. Now here’s Steve saying he’d rather Apple not be restrictive at all.

Is this a bluff? If so, he’ll be called on it.

Vistaphobic iTunes

February 4, 2007

Can Apple make a Windows program that plays nice with Windows?

When Apple first ported iTunes to Windows in late 2003, I was quickly annoyed by all its heavy-handed, Mac-centric quirks. Its brushed steel borders were no worse than the awkward skins of Windows Media Player or WinAmp, but I personally suffered from a catastrophically nasty bug: if iTunes was running when I inserted a CD, my HP laptop would instantly reboot. There is no excuse for a music player to wreak that kind of havok on my computer. I bailed Windows before Apple became even more invasive, porting their Software Update to Windows to oversee all of their PC offerings.

What was my solution to Apple’s bad behavior? I bought a Mac. That isn’t good parenting.

I figured more than three years of Windows experience would teach Apple how to play by the rules. Instead, their iTunes behavior is worse than ever:

Apple Inc. is warning users of its iTunes software about compatibility problems with Microsoft Corp.’s new operating system and has recommended against a switch to Windows Vista until a fix is complete.

What is Apple’s own solution to their all-new bad behavior? Don’t buy Vista! There’s no excuse for this: it’s past time for iTunes on Windows to grow up.

Looking at Apple’s list of specific problems reveals that iTunes Music Store DRM may not work, iPod syncing will not work correctly, and:

Ejecting an iPod from the Windows System Tray using the “Safely Remove Hardware” feature may corrupt your iPod.

Orwellian computer commands! Now that’s the Microsoft way.

There are so many other reasons not to buy Vista. Shame on Apple for adding to the list.

Best Intern Ever

October 3, 2006

Monday night brought the official word: the Toorcon Mozilla vulnerability was a crashing bug at best and an outright fiction at worst. It wasn’t the “impossible to patch” death knell for Firefox that presenter-pranksmen Mischa Spiegelmock and “Andrew Wbeelsoi” claimed it to be.

But this fiction still caused some damage. As of this morning, the front page of Google News was still hyping the Firefox nightmare:

Headlines about the false Firefox vulnerability.

Thankfully, by the afternoon nearly all of the news and tech sites I surveyed had issued followups exposing the hoax. For this round of technology hysteria, it was the media that needed “patching,” and I’m glad they followed up on what they probably shouldn’t have reported at all.

I’m interested in the fate of Spiegelmock. He gave a brazenly false presentation, followed by a thorough confession. And through it all he was identified not only as a “black hat” warrior, but as a Six Apart employee. Isn’t malicious hacking and yelling “exploit” in a crowded theatre enough to get him fired? Apparently not:

To hear Six Apart spokeswoman Jane Anderson tell it, the Toorcon presentation was a joke invented by two kids barely out of their teens who didn’t understand the ramifications of their actions.

Anderson added that Spiegelmock will not be terminated for his actions. “We all make mistakes,”

OK…what about another mistake? Spiegelmock chose the wrong co-presenter:

Also, Wbeelsoi, or “Weev” as he is called by friends, is part of a group that calls itself “Bantown,” a loose-knit outfit that claimed responsibility for a fairly high-profile Javascript attack against close to a million LiveJournal users….

His co-presenter hacks against the company he works for? That’s bad!

But is Spiegelmock truly a part of the dark side? His profile on Consumating.com (another Internet timewaster) shows him as a young, enthusiastic LiveJournal employee. Not even employee: intern.

He’s tagged best_intern_ever.

If he wasn’t the best, he might not have gotten this second chance.

Mischa Spiegelmock on the phone, under a Six Apart logo.

No Joy For SuperTux

August 10, 2006

Bored and curious click-through visitors may wonder if I answered my own question—posted to Mark Pilgrim’s website—about gamepad compatibility for the Super Mario-clone SuperTux:

I downloaded the game again a few weeks ago on my old Mac Mini, playing through the first few levels with the keyboard. I was planning to pull the gamepad out this week to check out its Mac compatibility with SuperTux and Lego Star Wars.

I dusted off the gamepad last night. Lego Star Wars recognizes the gamepad, but sadly, SuperTux does not. The gamepad itself is an anonymous piece of green plastic, probably never tested on Linux or a Mac, so I’m glad it’s come this far.

So remember our fallback plan: Space Bar to jump, Control to run and shoot a fireball.

The Internet Feels Better Without Protection

June 9, 2006

I have seen anti-virus programs in action.

I have seen them scrutinize outgoing, plain-text e-mails, locking up PCs as they do so.

I have seen them pop up endless error messages for any program that dares wander outside of port 80.

I have seen my work desktop slow to a crawl, stopping for at least two minutes each day as the anti-virus program self-updates. At random times. At random frequency.

But in my life I have never seen an anti-virus program do one thing: catch a virus.

Certainly there are viruses out there. I’ve personally encountered machines that have been hopelessly overrun with malicious software. But I can’t say how the viruses got there. And I couldn’t say what anti-virus software should have or would have done to stop them.

What I find most offensive is that anti-virus software goes out of its way to make its presence known. McAfee’s shield. Norton’s lemon-yellow background. Of course they’re working; they never stop telling you how hard they work. Maybe they’re right.

Still, anti-virus software has slowed down our computers for decades. This lost time adds up. And the sluggish application start times lead to a very real loss of sensation on the desktop.

Use a contemporary computer without anti-virus for a while and you’ll notice the difference. Less leaden. Less oppressive. The Internet feels better without protection.

I’m sure those hit by viruses would have a different perspective. Attacks on our computers are very real. But should we really have to cripple ourselves so much?

My biggest pet peeve at the moment is the self-promotion of McAfee: Total Protection, recently installed at my office. In this upgrade, the McAfee shield at the splash screen has been changed to a bogus, clip-art office setting, featuring the prominent smile of one of the most frightening women I have ever seen.

The splash screen for McAfee Total Protection, featuring a creepy woman staring at the camera.

I dread turning on my computer each morning. I leave the monitor off during startup, hoping I won’t encounter a woman who looks like Frank from Donnie Darko. From the instant McAfee begins its anti-viral duties, it makes my day wildly unpleasant. Going without anti-virus software is probably bad corporate policy. Scaring the employees? Acceptable loss.