inessential by Brent Simmons

June 2001


Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo has a page on what plants are good for local caterpillars and butterflies.

My favorite flower has long been Rudbeckia hirta, the Black-Eyed Susan. I like the straightforward sunniness of it, its enthusiastic charm.



I was looking for info about the lesser panda -- and I find this page, the first search result, and I'm like -- hey! It's an AutoWeb site!

Here are some pictures of red pandas.


I'm listening to Bill Gates' press conference on the radio. Bill to world: "Guess what? Chickenbutt."

Can people be led to beauty as easily as to ugliness? Or is that naive?

When I go to insult someone, I like to call him "shit-for-brains."


The firefly -- the lightning bug -- is actually a beetle. They're not found west of the Rockies, which is why I haven't seen any in Seattle. But I have fond memories of running around in the woods and catching them when I was a kid back east.

The Firefly Files.

Lately I've been getting spam for breast enlargement.

Which seems like there ought to be a great joke here, but I can't think of a good one. So here's a gratuitous link to Dollywood and a link to Planet Pamela.

There's a magazine called Bust. Hooters has a website.

Och, enough. Breasts are undoubtedly the most commercialized of body parts.

To paraphrase Voltaire -- if large breasts didn't exist, advertising agencies would have had to invent them. (In fact, given the number of surgeries per year, they practically did.)

Artificial honkers.

Norman Mailer once wrote something to the effect that bottle blondes are more truly blonde than natural blondes -- since they're blonde by choice rather than accident of genetics.

I'm sure a similar observation could be made about headlights.


Tracking Hemingway. Online reprints of articles about Papa published in The Atlantic between 1939 and 1983. has a photo gallery of lemurs.

I didn't used to eat nectarines, but lately I've been enjoying them. The nectarine derives from the peach, which comes from China. More history.

Hello, Dali.


The name "Smart Tags" makes me think of skin tags, which are a similar annoying and unwanted affliction. The difference? Skin tags are benign.

Sheila sometimes calls them "tough tags," because the name reminds her of something she uses at work.

In my dream world, one day I reformat all the drives on the Windows machines in my office and install Linux. (If I really did that I'd be in a ton of trouble.) Whenever I have to give blood or get a shot or whatever, or I have trouble falling asleep, I go to this dream world in my mind, and I'm happy.

Anyway, to answer the question so often posed, that's where I want to go today.

Scott: How can anybody get anything done on Windows?

Blue is the color of soulless bureaucratic authority.


Site officiel du musŽe du Louvre.

Mouse: "...start talking to them about Bingo or slot machines or raffle tickets, and the story changes: Grandma has Good Luck."

Butterflies of North America.

I think the butterfly I see so much of here in Ballard is the Cabbage White, but I don't know for sure. (I'm a lep newbie.)

The International Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing is a beautiful sport. I would have liked to have been a boxer.

It's a bad habit to draw general conclusions from little data. I do it sometimes. It annoys me, because it can be hard to shake the sense that the conclusion is correct, even when you know that you don't really know if it's true or not.

We installed some new themes from Bryan Bell on UserLand servers.


You know I like Mac OS X. The more I use it, the more I learn about it, the more I like it.

That said, today I'm going to talk about the problems, in hopes that they will get fixed.

The biggest problem is user interface performance.

I had expected that OS X -- being entirely PowerPC native -- would run rings around OS 9. I expected the UI's performance to blow away everything I'd seen before on a Mac (or even on Windows). But it's not so.

I suspect there are two things:

1. Functionality comes first, then optimization. Apple hasn't gotten to the optimization part yet.

2. OS X is written for computers that don't exist yet. This wouldn't be the first time. Remember how Netscape 2.0 seemed like a huge piece of bloatware? These days it seems thin and fast and light. Moore's law dictates OS X will get faster even without optimization.

But who wants to wait a year or two and shell out the bucks for a new computer?

***Performance problems that bug me

1. Live window re-sizing.

This is totally slow. It's not just the Finder, but any app that uses this feature. One of the reasons Frontier for OS X doesn't do live window re-sizing is that it's so slow. Why do the extra work for a negative benefit?

Live scrolling is often similarly slow. However, I've seen some apps do it better than other apps, so this isn't necessarily a system problem, just something that's difficult to do well. (More difficult than it should be.)

2. Application launch times.

There are those who say it's not that OS X is slow, it's that users need to change their habits. The advice is to launch all your apps at startup and leave them running.


I don't know what I'm going to use in advance. And, furthermore, apps launch quite quickly on OS 9 and Windows.

I suspect the problem is that when apps launch they link to a bunch of shared libraries, and this is what takes so much time. So this is a system problem.

(I note with pride that Frontier launches more quickly than most other apps I use on OS X.)

3. Switching windows, switching apps.

I hate switching windows or apps. It seems like an Aqua thing -- I have plenty of memory, I don't hear the disk being hit -- it's just that redrawing the windows to be enabled/disabled appears to take time. I say it seems like a drawing thing, but I don't know for sure.

4. Menus.

You click -- you wait -- ah, there's the menu. It's not usually a long wait, but just long enough to be noticeable. Again, it feels like a drawing thing, but I don't know for sure.

It's just so annoying -- heartbreaking, almost -- that when I switch to OS 9 or Windows (heaven forfend) after working in OS X I get a little shiver of joy as the UI is just so damn responsive in comparison.

***Other issues that bug me

1. Fuzziness.

On my Trinitron, Aqua is sharp and beautiful. Pleasant without being distracting.

On my iBook it's a bit fuzzy.

On my Samsung 770 LCD it's atrocious, unusable for more than a minute or two. (So the server gets that monitor.)

I fear that Apple's new 17" LCD monitor will have about the same quality as the iBook. Which is just not good enough. Aqua demands high-quality glass monitors -- just as, ironically, Apple is shifting to LCD monitors.

2. Screen real estate.

OS X takes up more space than OS 9. Fonts are larger. Everything is larger. Very little is customizable.

My 17" Trinitron is great for development on OS 9 -- but it's just too damn small on OS X. I use it, but I don't like it, it feels claustrophobic. But do I want to buy a new monitor? No way.

3. Missing pieces of developer documentation.

I was trying to find out how to write global OSA components for OS X. Couldn't find docs or sample code.

Other examples: how does one manipulate the icon in the dock? Or add to its menu? Or add a global menu? Or...

They're filling the holes, yes, and there are tons of docs, yes, but it seems that too often I still can't find what I'm looking for. That makes development a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

4. MSIE is the default browser.

Of the four browsers I've used on OS X, MSIE is probably the weakest, the slowest, most buggy -- but it's what ships with OS X. Nuts. (At the same time, MSIE on OS 9 is a damn nice browser.)


All this kvetching is because I like OS X. (And yes I'll send my feedback to Apple, no need to send me email.)

I want to use it more than I do.

For my own edification, I bought Learning Cocoa the other day -- and I'm pleasantly surprised. Cocoa and Objective C seem (so far) much cooler than I expected. So when I see the mountain of things that are so damn right with OS X -- and Cocoa is just one of many things -- the few things that are not right just bug me all the more.


Of course, OS X users sometimes bug me. There's a perception that Carbon is somehow inferior, "less native," than Cocoa.

More bullshit.

Listen: Carbon and Cocoa are peers. Each have their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, Cocoa is cool -- but please, get over your fetish. To demand that developers rewrite their existing apps as Cocoa apps is stupid. What, do you not want Photoshop? I didn't think so.

I'm pleased that Frontier users are such a smart bunch. I've haven't heard this demanded of UserLand. Thanks!

I checked out Opera for OS X the other day. Fast. Nice. I recommend it. I actually prefer it to the OS 9 or Windows versions.


This is what happens when you're bad.

Via 9potsofcoffeeandapackofsmokes.


Good-bye CueCat. This should win an award for stupidest idea in the over-$200-million-wasted category.

The assumption behind the CueCat is that people really are no more than automatons, slaves to advertising and spoon-fed media. It gratifies me immensely to see it fail.

I mean, can you picture what was in those guys' head? Joe User, sitting in front of his computer as he reads his favorite magazine, scanning ads and smiling like a moron as his Web browser takes him from one soul-killing Web site to another.

Dudes, I don't think so. Go to hell for thinking like that.


I added the no-smart-tags meta tag to this site.

It's easy. If you're a Manila user, edit your template (and home page template if you use it) and add this code in the <head> section of your template:

<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">


Everyone's got gremlins, right? Those little voices in your head that tell you you're a dumb ugly loser.

Mine have a sense of humor. They know me too well, they know that the way to get my attention is with a joke.

Here's what they're saying to me on the subject of writing:

"Those who can (those who can write) do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach -- well, those poor saps write content management systems."

Of course, on the one-thousandth repetition it's not that funny anymore.

Just shut up.

And those who can't write content management systems -- they become editors.



When I was a kid we used to say -- here's a dime, call someone who cares.

A dime!

Now you can't hardly find a phone booth that takes change. I don't know what they want, but I haven't got any.

You used to be able to walk inside phone booths and close the door. You couldn't do it without thinking of Superman. Or at least little boys always thought of Superman.

Nowadays you have to have a cellphone on your person at all times.

I am Cingulus of Borg.

Resistance, however futile, is free for the first 40 minutes, then 10 cents a minute afterward, with no roaming charges.

Can you tell I went downtown yesterday?

Half the people on the crowded sidewalk are talking into phones. The other half are doing something electronic that I couldn't figure out.

I'm a modern guy, not a Luddite.

But wasn't it nice when you could walk down the street and be out of touch, and just know you're walking down the street, and it's cool, and there's nothing else to do at that moment. And you could maybe look at things that are pretty, buildings and shop windows and flowers, and hold your breath as you walk past the alley, and stand at the corner with all the different people while you wait for the light to change?

This is Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson. Come in your fatitude.

Yes, please bring me home now.


Hippo birdies two ewes!


I hugely enjoyed Robert Scoble's note to Joshua Allen regarding Smart Tags. "YOUR MESSAGE HERE IS THE VOICE OF THE DEVIL."

Speaking of the devil, remember Jazz Butcher?

Well, the devil is my friend...


This being Microsoft-free Friday, I started off this morning using Opera, and now I'm using iCab. (I'm on OS 9 today, mostly, and I usually use MSIE there.)

Opera is very fast, seemingly the fastest browser I've used on a Mac. But I just couldn't stand the look of its toolbars and icons. (A matter of personal taste, not a real criticism.) So I switched to iCab -- which is similarly ugly, except it's not too bad when you use text-only toolbars and change the toolbar color to graphite.

(Yes, I realize you can do text-only toolbars in Opera -- but they're ugly too. Ugh.)

iCab isn't quite as fast as Opera, but it seems as fast as MSIE, at least. And it has a feature I totally dig, the happy face/unhappy face that you can click on to see HTML warnings and errors.

Another thing I like about iCab is that you can control what things scripts are allowed to do. I'm not allowing scripts to open new windows, take away my toolbars, move or change the size of my browser window, access referers or my history list, or write in the status bar.

However, my favorite browser remains OmniWeb.


Frontier 7.0.1 is now shipping. Change notes.

It was hard to sleep this morning because that crazy squirrel was up on my roof trying to dig a hole. Dude, why.


My grandparents are in town for a day, prior to going on an Alaskan cruise.

Like almost all of my family, they live back East, in southern New Jersey.

My grandmom is proof that some things run in families. She was a librarian for a local public school before retiring. She was a pioneer in the early '80s in bringing computers into the school and teaching kids to use them. She knew way back then that it was important, even when most everybody else around her thought they were just expensive toys.

In recent years she worked with the library in her small town. When they moved into a new building, she was especially careful to make sure they had a good Internet connection and computers so people could surf the Web. Whenever I see her we talk about the thick bundle of cables coming into the library and how they're networked and all the cool stuff going on. (It's easily possible she knows more about the physical side of setting up a high-speed network than I do.)

Alot of maintaining Web sites is like librarian's work. At UserLand we have many thousands of pages of documentation. But how do people find what they're looking for? How are the pages organized? That's librarian stuff, the job of a Web librarian.

Further in the past, my grandparents were squab farmers. We used to eat squab all the time. I haven't had any in at least 20 years now, and I miss it. Unless you've had it, you have no idea how good it is.


Whenever something like Microsoft's Smart Tags thing comes up, my first thought is to say: "Goodbye. Fuck you. I'm going to go collect butterflies. Fuck you."

And then I remember that the Web is way too valuable to just give it away like that. Sometimes I wish that wasn't true, it would be so much easier.

I wonder if it's a syndrome, intelligent programmers so sickened by x, y, and z that they leave the industry completely.

If it seems like I take this stuff too personally, well, it is personal. For years the Web has been a real, constant presence, and I work on my corner of it day and night. The Web has done alot for me, and I try to do alot for the Web. I listen, as honestly and clearly as I can, to what it really wants; I try to hear over the din of shit. I'm not saying I do it perfectly, but I do make the attempt as best I can.

The Squirrel

It’s so hard to teach squirrels to play baseball. There’s this one squirrel who lives in a tree in my yard. We go down to the park just about every day. He runs out to center field and I hit him pop flies.

Look at him run! Such grace and speed, the kid can really move. He’s a natural. He gets a great break on the ball and just takes off — and then he’s there, feet planted under the ball, he’s there to make the sure, two-handed catch. I’m so proud, I didn’t even have to teach him that. The kid has instincts, I’m tellin’ ya. I’ve never seen anything like it.

But then, before I can even say boo, he’s buried the damn ball there in center field. His two little hands dig up the grass, make a ball-sized hole, plop the ball in there, replace the dirt and grass, and then he stops, ready for another one. And I’m aghast, again, at how he can’t seem to get the simple concept of throwing the ball back to the infield.

So I grab another ball from my basket, hit it way up in the air — and there he goes! It’s a site to see, something beautiful to watch, you gotta see him cover that wide-open space, tracking the ball with his eyes, his feet all a-blur, his athletic, sleek body just moving through space... And damn, he’s buried the ball again.

So I’ve lost about half the balls in the basket already — like every other day — and so we switch to ground balls. I hit ’em on the ground to him, and he’s wonderful, not surprised by any weird hops, a natural at reading the ground, totally great instincts. I mean, holy cow. But you know what happens, he buries each and every one.

So finally I’m just about out of balls — and the kid owes me like another 500 bucks in baseballs again — and I’m yelling out to him, “Throw the damn ball back to the damn infield! You’ve got to hit the damn cut-off man!”

He does this thing, instead of facing me right on, he turns sideways, so he’s looking at me with just one eye. He’s totally still, just staring at me, that one, unblinking eye.

I don’t get this, I never do. “What!” I yell. “I don’t know what that means! What!”

He doesn’t move. Finally I hit him some more grounders, and he fields them expertly, and expertly buries them in the field.

Until we’re out of balls. “Nuts!” I yell, a little frustrated. Delighted, yes, but frustrated too. He comes trotting in, and we pick up our equipment and start walking back home.

As we’re walking along the sidewalk, our equipment slung over our shoulders, he asks if we’re going out tomorrow.

And I’m like, “Are you going to throw the ball back to the infield?”

He stops walking, just gives me that eye again. Ah nuts. The eye, the one eye, unblinking, staring. “What’s that all about! What are you saying! I don’t know what that means!”

We just stand there on the sidewalk, me a couple paces ahead, looking back at him.

Finally, I shake my head, shake off the weirdness of the moment, and I go, quietly, “Yes, of course we’ll go out tomorrow.”

I don’t get it, I gotta say — I mean, he’s the one who wants to be a centerfielder so bad. I’m the one who’s helping him.


And then sometimes late at night he plays his stereo too loud. I go outside in my pajamas. “Keep it down for God’s sake!”

I can’t see him, it’s way too dark, but I know he’s giving me that eye.

At least, at least there’s this — he does turn the music down after a little while.


Frontier 7.0 is shipping. New features; change notes.

I wonder if this is the first software product to ship simultaneously for Windows, Mac Classic, and OS X?


Typing is pretty awkward wearing a baseball glove on your left hand.

Nevertheless, I persist.