PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 22

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

June 14, 1999

Graduation Time

I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Two Graduations, A Parental Visit and a Gold Award
  • Paul At Work

Computer Industry News

  • Rethinking Microsoft Redux

Web Site of the Week

  • The Brunching Shuttlecocks

Humor

  • The Serenity Prayer

Movies

  • Love Letter

Letters

  • Truth in Pets: Meg Sherwood, Kent Peterman

General News

Two Graduations, A Parental Visit and a Gold Award

OK, it isn't as clever as the movie title, but it does describe the last, hectic week.

For the first, but not the last time, we had two major graduations back to back. Rae graduated from grade school (although some would argue that isn't major) and Marlow graduated from high school.

Rae graduated first, from Orinda Intermediate School, on Thursday. The ceremony was held in the gymnasium of nearby St. Mary's College. Due to a lack of planning, the traffic leaving the Joaquin Moraga Middle School commencement was leaving just as we arrived, achieving total gridlock with no traffic control officers on scene.

Four years ago, it rained heavily on the day of Marlow's graduation from eighth grade. This year, it was breezy and in the 70s for Rae's. An outdoor graduation would have been comfortable. This one was indoors. At least the motivational speaker who interminably lengthened Marlow's commencement was absent this year. Gone too were the usual interminable speeches by school district luminaries. Several students spoke for three minutes each, the principal said a few words, and then we were off to the unavoidably long and boring part: the reading of every name.

You know, the best way to attend a commencement is the way I attended MIT's; come for an entertaining speaker, then leave before the names. Of course that only works if none of the names are related to you.

Rae was stunning in a long white dress. She was elegant as she walked to the stage and received her diploma. They don't wear gowns for 8th grade graduation. She went immediately to a dance that ran from 7:30 to 11 p.m. I arrived at the gym at 11:15 p.m. and by 1:30 a.m. we had disassembled the "Hollywood Night" theme constructions.

I know a lot of people feel 8th grade graduation is silly. Almost no one halts their education at that point, so what are we marking? We are having a ceremony for a change in status. I have long believed that one of the things wrong wit this society is that we have too few--never too many--ceremonies to mark life changes.

Thus, I have no trouble with making a pretty big deal out of high school graduation either. This is clearly a much bigger deal. For starters, Marlow won't see most of these people ever again, and she's been close to some of them for 12 years. For another thing, although 90% or so of the students are going on to college, some are not, and some of the college-bound students won't graduate. For them, this is it. Their last chance to shine.

And shine they did. Saving The Best For Last, the Miramonte High School Class of 1999 graduated on the football field, in front of some of the most splinter-filled benches it has ever been my misfortune to sit on. I lost all feeling in my hindquarters before the third student speech. By the time that Zimmerman kid picked up his diploma, I was lucky I could stand up.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and windy. The graduates faced into the sun. The parents and grandparents in the stands all worried about getting sunburned necks, even thought the ceremony started at 5:30 p.m. In attendance were Vicki, Rae and Me, my mother (also at Rae's commencement), the girls' godmother Sue Thiem and their cousins Kimberly and Kirsten Drake. Marlow's aunt Pamela Drake was riding a bicycle to Los Angeles to raise money to fight AIDS (she made it).

Once again, the speeches were mercifully brief (three minutes or less) and there were few of them. Despite a few outbreaks of beach ball bouncing, the grads were generally well behaved. They went immediately to an all-night party in the school gym featuring food and entertainment that lasted until 4 a.m. These school-sponsored grad night parties are apparently the norm now.

They don't call it commencement for nothing. Both of my daughters commenced on new stages of their lives, with bright prospects and an unknown by wide open future head of them. I am very proud of both of them, and always will be.

Never skip a commencement.

Oh, the parental visit was my mother's: she came on Wednesday and left on Sunday. All of you should be so lucky to have the relationship with your parents I have with mine. And she gets along like a house on fire with my wife and daughters too. Am I the luckiest guy on Earth, or what.

Finally, this weekend marked what I believe will be the last celebration of Marlow's Girl Scout Gold award. I only saw the very start of the celebration (the eating chips and drinking soda part), then had to leave for my band's Flag Day concert at the Rossmoor retirmenet home. It was the first time I ever missed the first song in a concert. I hope it will be the last. Boy is it embarrasing to sit down and join the band afte they've started playing.

Paul At Work

I flew to Los Angeles and installed some audio gear at Chaos Manor for my columnist Jerry Pournelle. He grabbed these shots of me at work.

See The Pictures Here

Computer Industry News

Rethinking Microsoft Redux

Two weeks ago in this space, I asked people to rethink their assumptions about Microsoft. A week ago at Byte.com, I printed the same editorial.

You would think I had set fire to an American flag while defiling Chelsea Clinton in Times Square on New Years' Eve. The average Byte.com article attracts perhaps four email letters. The editorial attracted 40, all but a few of them violently opposed to my simple suggestion--that maybe Microsoft wasn't at fault for every bad thing that happened to every competitor. I am going to take another bite of the apple at the Byte.com site as well, but I will test run it here. Keep in mind this is aimed mostly at the Byte audience. Everyone who reads this column was quite polite.

I have read the trial transcripts, thank you. In fact, I have read more of them than you have, unless you're an attorney for one side or the other. I covered the first four months of the trial every day. I sat through all four hours of testimony before the Senate Antitrust Committee last spring-did you?

Unlike some of you, I have given some actual thought to the subject instead of reacting viscerally and automatically. None of the email we received, not the thoughtful messages (thank you for your time) or the outpourings of foul-mouthed bile (of which we are and will publish exactly zero) gave me a single fact I hadn't already known.

If arrogance and frat-boy boasting were crimes, every senior official of Microsoft would have been in jail a long time ago. Neither activity is against the law.

In my opinion, Microsoft has committed acts that are prohibited to a monopolist. In my opinion, Microsoft is a monopolist. So, in my opinion, it deserves to lose the present case in federal court.

That does not mean that it destroyed OS/2, or DR-DOS or even Netscape single-handedly. It was aided and abetted in all three cases by management error at the companies in question. Yes, thank you, I have considered the fact that it is still a crime to torpedo a sinking boat, or for a rich person to rob a poor one.

We can argue this until the cows come home--and probably will. The simple fact of the matter is that, with a few exceptions, in the early, critical years of this business, when Bill Gates was establishing his empire, he took software seriously as a business and believed in PCs. That's why he won and others lost. For him it was a zero sum game.

For Gary Kildall (DR-DOS), it was a game period. Business never came before pleasure. Gary was a wonderful person--a much more pleasant human being than Gates. But he lacked the killer instinct. As for IBM, it was years before the company believed in the PC; to IBM it was a smart terminal, a mainframe adjunct. They neutered it the first chance they got, and went for the "business" market without realizing that the whole market was a business market.

The only new idea I've heard since the trial started is the one that started this whole brouhaha--Jerry Pournelle's idea that in the case of some Microsoft competitors, it wasn't murder, it was suicide. That's still a refreshingly different idea in this debate. It struck me and I wanted to share it with you.

Jerry also thinks the government in punishing Microsoft for succeeding. I am not sure I agree. If Microsoft is punished, it won't be for succeeding, it will be for succeeding unfairly. If Microsoft gets off scott-free, I will be as angry as you. They have almost certainly broken the law, and they should not be allowed to get away with it, any more than Standard Oil or AT&T were. But not every Microsoft success stems from illegal activity, and we should keep that in mind.

On the other hand, a thoughtful friend of mine sent this analysis after reading my Microsoft editorial here recently. He asked me to withhold his name:

Consumers absolutely have been harmed by the MSFT monopoly. The price of Windows, and Windows upgrades (which are in many cases required bug fixes to previous upgrades) have remained constant or risen in spite of the fact that the prices of computers have dropped by over 50% since 1995, not even accounting for inflation. The price of the MSFT OS has grown to become a greater and greater percentage of the total system price every year.
The cost of "innovations we'll never see" (from competition now out of business or ventures that failed to achieve funding) is impossible to quantify.
Appreciate if you'd ask Jerry to explain these facts. I would in fact be happy if he could, because the blatant anti-competitive situation as it exists in software today seriously depresses me.
I am definitely NOT a libertarian. Capitalism has a serious end-game flaw. Too big all too often means too powerful. Columbine and other recent examples mean you cannot just step back and "let things take their course".
We are all paying the price in this silly lawsuit for Anne Bingaman's toothless consent decree that allowed MSFT to develop "integrated products". What an insane loophole. I'm not implying you are on MSFT's payroll, only that she must have been.
PS It is illegal to use cash flows from a monopoly-protected business to subsidize entry into a separate business. At the time of the great Windows SDK giveaway, it's arguable that MSFT was not in the monopoly position they are today, and giving the driver development kits away for free was just smart business -- you don't get to be a monopoly by being shortsighted or stupid.
Today, however the situation is different. MSFT has won the game. It's time to put the game pieces back in the box, and let someone else play, or put them back on a level playing field.

Web Site of the Week

The Brunching Shuttlecocks

A tip o' the Schindler hat to Craig Reynolds, who sent me this note:

I saw a "Memento Morty" on someone's page and followed it here. I particularly liked "one of the reasons why Renaissance art is cooler than the Web". I saw a few other good laughs mixed in among lukewarm humor in "More by this author".

By the way, the humorous comparison Craig liked was:

The Renaissance: Constant reminders of the fleetingness of life and the close hand of death.

The Web: Pictures of cats wearing fake reindeer antlers.

Here is my "Momento Morty." I don't think I'll put it on my web page, but I'll put it in this one column:

Humor

The Serenity Prayer

Next time your feeling a little stressed out, recite this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I cannot accept, And the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill today because they pissed me off. And also, help me to be careful of the toes I step on today, As they may be connected to the ass that I may have to kiss tomorrow. Help me to always give 100% at work.... 12% on Monday 23% on Tuesday 40% on Wednesday 20% on Thursday 5% on Fridays and help me to remember.... When I'm having a really bad day, And it seems that people are trying to piss me off, That it takes 42 muscles to frown And only 4 to extend my middle finger and tell them to "bite me."

Movies

Love Letter

Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).

Director: Peter Chan. Writer: Maria Maggenti from the novel by Cathleen Schine. Tagline: No one knows who sent it. No one knows who it's for. But everyone's getting the same message. Kate Capshaw: Helen. Blythe Danner: Lillian MacFarquhar. Gloria Stuart: Eleanor MacFarquhar. Ellen DeGeneres: Janet Hall. Geraldine McEwan: Mrs. Scattergoods. Tom Everett Scott: Johnny. Tom Selleck: George Mathias. MPAA: Rated PG-13 on appeal for some sensuality, nudity and strong language. Runtime: 88 minutes.

First, Bravo. A reasonable running time!

I was inclined to love this film for its very clever conceit: a single love letter, seen by numerous people, all of whom think it is addressed to them. It is odd, eccentric, disjointed and offbeat. My younger daughter Rae objected strenuously to the sexual relationship between Helen (Kate Capshaw), a woman in her 40s and Johnny (Tom Everett Scott), who is playing a 20-something college student. At least she's consistent; you'll recall she also disliked the relationship between Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment.

I couldn't find the full text of the letter. If you can find it somewhere on the Internet, let me know. It begins, "Do you know how in love with you I am? I know when I long to see you when I tie my shoes ... when I drive my car." I liked it. Some reviewers found it saccharine. I found it sweet and endearing.

It was disjointed. Maybe that happened in the editing room. Maybe it was a lousy script. I don't know enough to say. But someone should take the fall for this kind of incoherence.

Kate Capshaw doesn't work too much (most middle aged women in Hollywood don't work too much). But she might have been well advised to pass on this script and wait for a better one.

Having seen Ellen DeGeneres twice now, in this and as Sgt. Rita Pompano in the indie film Goodbye Lover, I predict a bright future for her as a wisecracking secondary character.

Letters

Truth in Pets

Last week, I said the dog ate my homework. Meg Sherwood immediately caught me out:

Dog??? You may get away with that with your other friends/acquaintances, but 1) I have met your cats and 2) I have sat at your dinner table and heard you explain how a milkman's son feels about dogs. So, if you're going to pull that old one on me, try your kamodo dragon ate your homework.

Kent Peterman apparently liked my reunion story:

I loved the section on your reunion. Very well written. I felt as if I was there too.
I remember going to a 30th high school reunion. (I haven't gone to any college ones.) That for some reason was held in Stockton. Odd since I graduated from a small private high school in Oakland. Although it was fun to see all of the folks from my class I decided that if they ever have another one. (They haven't so far) I'd rather opt for the videotape.
Since there were only 35 in our graduating class there isn't a large base with whom to mingle at reunions.
My favorite reunion story however is going with a friend 10 years my senior to her reunion from. She had a huge class so no one really remembered everyone. The peoople there assumed we'd all gone to high school together and kept complimenting me on how great I looked. Which reminds me of the old line: If you want to look good hang around with people who are, older, fatter, uglier, and stupider than you are. Which also reminds me of the fact that Helena Rubenstein used to add years on to her age so people would think that her cosmetics were effective.

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